A group of medical students at the University of Alberta is promoting a simple solution to improving access to clean water in Africa: a ceramic filter in the form of a clay pot. Water is poured into the pot and when it seeps out the other side it is free of harmful pathogens. The key to the filters is how they’re made: the clay is mixed with organic matter which burns off in the kiln when the pot is fired, making it water-permeable.
Third-year medical student Abdullah Saleh began experimenting with the filters in 2007 and shared his findings with two classmates, Abraam Isaac and Tyler van Mulligan. The Kenya Ceramic Project now has a team of nine medical students working in Kenya and in Canada. Another project, called Potters for Peace, has been using similar technology in Central and South America since the early 1980s.
University of Alberta biology professor Mike Belosevic, who specializes in water-borne infectious diseases, helped the students test the filters in his lab. The clay filters are a practical idea, he says, since pottery-making is already a big business in East Africa.
The students plan to return to Kenya this summer to build kilns and to make the ceramic filters. Their goal is to distribute the filters to households with young children, because they’re the most susceptible to water-borne diseases.
Dr. Belosevic says the students are most concerned with educating locals about how to properly use and clean the filters. If used properly, the efficacy of the filters does not deteriorate over time, he says.