High Tech Water Filter Donation

by Kelly Anderson, Volunteer, Personal Endeavour

  • Project: Katadyn water filter
  • Location: Haiti
  • Sector: Water and Sanitation
  • Professional Designation: Personal Endeavor

Failure

Around 2002, I donated a $700 Katadyn water filter to an orphanage in Haiti. I instructed them on the use of the filter, and asked them to be sure and filter water for the neighbours of the orphanage too… to build up good relationships with their community. They seemed amazed that such a small piece of equipment (around 10 pounds) would actually work to create clean water, but after I drank water purified by the unit, they were convinced.

The filter was rated for 20,000 gallons, so I told them whenever they used it up, to let me know and I would send them another cartridge. I thought we were golden when I left.

Because the filter was so expensive, after I left, it got put into a locked closet. It was rarely taken out and used. I don’t believe it was ever used for the neighbors and rarely for the orphans.

Eventually, someone broke into the closet, or an employee with a key, not sure which, stole the water filter and sold it. The money did not, to my understanding, go to serve the orphans in any way. I have always hoped that someone was getting clean water from it, but who knows?

Learning

What did I learn? Portable isn’t always good. High tech isn’t always good. Be aware that not all people are honest. Poverty is a bitch. Solving problems isn’t easy.

React

Select three phrases that describe this failure.

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4 Comments

Got something to say? Feel free, I want to hear from you! Leave a Comment

  1. Dave says:

    Sorry to hear about the filter. Have them try a slow sand filter. See my site and many others on the web for details. These filters work and they can be built with local materials, require no chemicals, and are sustainable technology.

  2. Jeb Bingham says:

    I think you had a great idea and good motives but you need to think about human nature, which is based on the lowest common denominator: greed. In my experience, the way to make a situation like this work is that you have to have someone dedicated to oversight and being on the ground to actually make sure the right things happen. That’s difficult because you have to find the right person, train them, and then pay them to keep them on the job. I think it all comes down to the idea of enforceable stewardship: someone has to make sure the right things happen. Kudos on trying to help provide clean water, and the incident is a valuable lesson for everyone.

  3. EcoSanMan says:

    Hi Kelly,

    This is a completely understandable problem encountered countlessly in this sector.

    The failure is understandable from the benefactor’s perspective as you will have established good relations with the community and reached a common agreement that the filter is beneficial to the community and outweighs the existing water infrastructure. So it seems obvious that the community will use the filter.

    Similarly, the failure is also understandable from the beneficiary’s perspective. These are people living in desperate poverty where any marginal gain in capital eases the struggle for food and water

    The root of the failure comes from a misunderstanding of these perspectives

    The benefactor (you) assumed the community are in complete agreement with your argument surrounding the filter. However, even though it seemed this way, many communities can express commitments but they’re not always genuine. Additionally, the mindset that “We are totally reliant on aid givers” prevents them from expressing their views as they rank their opinion redundant to yours.

    Also I am not sure if you monitored the existing cross-community relations. But perhaps your advice to filter the other the community’s water led to the eventual loss of the filter, due to conflicting opinions between the communities.

    In essence, the prevention of failures like this comes from a complete understanding if the community’s perspective.

    As Jeb says, you need trustworthy people who can translate thoughts and intentions so you and the community have a common understanding.

    They also need to be on the ground to feedback progress of the project, allowing you to advise and ensure the project is being carried out as intended.

    Best,
    Liam

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