Master of Public Health student

It may use the most simple of technology, but a new water filtration system is transforming thousands of lives in the Dominican Republic. Designed by Master of Public Health student, Timothy Muttoo, in partnership with the non-profit organization FilterPure, the new filters use locally sourced clay, saw dust and particles of silver to remove 99.99 percent of all water contaminants in households without access to safe water.

“It really is an engineering innovation,” said Muttoo, who redesigned the composition of FilterPure’s original product to lower production costs and make the filters more affordable for households in the Dominican. “So many well-intentioned projects fail in developing countries because they aren’t sustainable or affordable.”

Timothy Muttoo.

Waterloo grad student Timothy Muttoo shows the results of the clay water filter he designed. The water in the glass on the right has gone through the filter.

Water is first step out of poverty

One of the Caribbean’s poorest countries, 1.6 million people in the Dominican Republic do not have access to safe, clean water. UNICEF estimates that 50 percent of children live in poverty, with 30 out of every 1000 dying before the age of five as a result of impure water and unhygienic living conditions.

“Without a safe, accessible water source, communities get trapped in a vicious cycle: poverty contributes to access problems; access problems perpetuate poverty,” said Muttoo, who launched his own non-profit, H2O 4 ALL, in 2008. “The effects of unsafe water and poor sanitation are devastating, but it is a completely solvable problem.”

The innovative bowl-shaped filters work by distilling dirty water through a porous clay membrane and into a clean receptacle bucket.  The water is brought to safe drinking quality standards and easily accessed from a spigot by anyone in the household.

Working with, not for, communities

This year Muttoo and FilterPure plan to distribute 4000 filters to families across the Dominican. Each filter can produce up to 30 litres of clean, safe water per day. As part of the initiative, Muttoo will study the social uptake of the technology as well as work alongside community health leaders for training and monitoring of the filter usage and evaluating health impacts within impoverished communities.

“A key to sustainability is working with the communities, not for the communities,” said Muttoo.

Since its inception, H2O 4 ALL has led projects in 10 different countries around the world— all with the mandate of working with local partners on the ground.

Last summer Muttoo partnered with Save the Mothers and United Nations University in Uganda to drill a borehole well for Kawolo hospital, which serves Lugazi’s 1.2 million inhabitants. The well is an expansion of a rainwater filtration system he installed in 2012 for the hospital’s maternity ward— the hospital’s first ever access to safe water. As a result of the projects, infection rates at the hospital have plummeted to almost zero per cent.

“Thousands of people are alive, and healthy because of collaborative projects like these and the people that reached out to help,” said Muttoo. “Sustainability, empowerment and health. That’s the power of giving people clean water.”

Affiliation: 
University of Waterloo