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Water Filters 21 Jan 2010

Friends Peace Teams’ Indonesia Initiative
Silver-Treated Ceramic Water Filters in Indonesia 2009

The water filter development, which Friends Peace Teams began raising funds for in the fall of 2007, is steadily, although slowly, moving forward. Once some funds were secured, Friends Peace Teams made arrangements with a national Indonesian charitable organization, the Society for Health, Education, Environment and Peace (SHEEP) to co-sponsor a training in production of silver-treated ceramic water filters. SHEEP identified participants and provided hospitality, training facilities and access to large kiln firing. They were the only ones who committed to ensuring that, once in production, the filter price would remain as low as feasible and that the technology would remain open through educational programs to share the technology with others.

Friends Peace Teams then supported Reid Harvey from Silver Ceramic Systems in Alfred, New York to travel to Jogjakarta, Indonesia to train ten people in the production of silver-treated, ceramic water filters in November 2008. Friends Peace Teams supplied equipment and materials for the training, including fabrication of a press, construction of a test kiln and materials for filters and water testing. For video clips of this workshop see: www.silverceramicsystems.com

Friends Peace Teams undertook this work in Indonesia because so many Indonesians are in constant pain from dehydration, which precludes working together on other activities such as alternatives to violence, trauma healing or developmental play. Whether war, natural disaster or poverty, life is hard when people do not have access to clean drinking water.

Reid taught people to produce a “ceramic candle filter,” which is treated with a tiny amount of silver nitrate prior to firing, providing 100% removal of pathogens without a trace of silver in the filtered water. Studies indicate that users of the filters find them to be both appropriate and easy to maintain. The filter price is below US$8.00, which is affordable to people living on very low incomes for a source of drinking water that lasts for decades.

The first major production obstacle was that another company purchased all available quality clay en masse, so we could only access low-quality clay that required extensive processing before use. The second major obstacle was that SHEEP advanced a large sum of money to the kiln owner to purchase materials, who absconded with the funds. It took some time to figure out what happened and recover the funds. As a result, SHEEP dedicated staff from inside their own ranks to work full-time on procuring materials, managing the process and locating another kiln. By February 2009, production was underway.

The next set of obstacles was with design elements. The plastic end-caps used in Nepal were financially prohibitive in Indonesia, so the Indonesians spent a great deal of time experimenting and designing ceramic end-caps that are glaze sealed to the filter. Once the end-cap problem was solved, they went into production. In 2009, they produced 290 filters, but production was dramatically slowed because they did not know how to guarantee the effectiveness of each and every filter.

SHEEP reported to Friends Peace Teams that the need and demand for filters is as urgent as ever, but they really need support in how to approach quality assurance. The Alfred Area Alternatives to Violence Coordinator, Nicholas Dosch, is a ceramic engineer working in the Alfred University labs on these filters and from the first time he heard about the project had asked, “How are you going to guarantee each filter?” So we approached Nick, who agreed to go to Jogjakarta in March of 2010 to review their production area and assist them in developing a quality assurance mechanism. Hopefully as this problem is resolved, they will be able to move into full production.

This ceramic water filter is now widely accepted, since the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged their use in June 2009. Other groups in Indonesia have copied our filter, which we’ve taken as the greatest form of flattery. We tracked all of them back to one USAID contractor, however, who has produced 32 filters and has not even begun thinking about production although they have spent massive amounts of money. We did speak to USAID feeling that a larger funding source may be appropriate at this juncture, but felt in the end that our small-scale approach stood a better chance of resolving problems and actually getting to production than their more high-profile approach, so we persist.

As we await the resolution of the quality assurance problem, SHEEP is looking into concerns about patents. We support open-source technology, but are concerned about low-quality copy-cats threatening public trust in the filters once they’re in production. For future insurance, it might be best to patent the technology in Indonesia so if such a case arises there is the possibility of legal recourse.

As we face the current tragedy in Haiti, a Friend involved in international aid and relief said, “Tell young people that hurrying down here to help is not the only, nor necessarily the best, thing they can do. They need to work on all types of supports for people in disasters as we are going to face more and more of this. Like those water filters. We know about them, but no one has started large-scale production. If anyone were producing them, we would order them by the thousands right now. Tell them to work on that.” I have passed the word on to Nicholas Dosch and our friends at SHEEP. While results have not been as immediate as we would have wished, we are clear that taking the time to build a solid, locally-controlled base for this effort is what will guarantee the greatest success in the long term.  We thank all of our donors for your support and encouragement.