The Swedish solar water purifier and heating system Solvatten collaborated, in 2016, with Kinondo Kwetu Clinic in Southern Kenya to improve health and hygiene in malnourished children. Two years later the impact of Solvatten jerry cans on the health of children in this region has been dramatic.
Mwana Lima is a single mother of four; one of them was born with a disability. She lives in a small village of Southern Kenya. Her village in the Kwale County lies on a thin coral stone layer at an elevation of 0-30 metres above sea level. Digging a borehole for water or a pit latrine .is a challenging task for Mwana Lima’s neighbours and the inhabitants of this large territory, which spreads from the northern Kenyan coastal county of Mombasa to the southern Kenya-Tanzania border.
Health has always been a major concern for Kwale County inhabitants. Mwana Lima was used to seeing her own children becoming ill with diarrhoea. Every day she gets up at dawn every day, fetches firewood and searches for water. In order to make it safe for drinking and cooking she needs firewood to boil it. This is just one of her numerous daily tasks to keep the household going.
Difficult access to water is a continuous health hazard for Mawana Lima’s neighbours in Kwale County where outbreaks of waterborne diseases, such as typhoid and cholera, are widespread. Firewood is the only energy source available to them. The demand for this fuel is always on the rise in this arid land, and it dramatically weakens the household’s finances in addition to having a negative impact on the environment.
Dependence on firewood affects women like Mwana Lima the most. They carry out the time-consuming task of collecting enough wood to cover the needs of all household activities. The alternative when there is no time is to buy it. When money is already a luxury buying wood creates a serious financial crisis for families living in this region.
Safe and Hot Water to Save Children
Use of sunlight to reduce firewood consumption is changing the lives of many women in Africa. Swedish environmentalist Petra Wadström thought that something needed to be done to halt deforestation while improving the living conditions of women in rural areas. Her first thoughts and ideas came as a result of witnessing the lives of poor farmers in Indonesia. She spent years thinking about and designing a solution to harness the power of solar energy. Her goal was two-fold: on one hand, to give access to safe drinkable water and, on the other, to give access to hot water for washing.
A ten-litre jerry can, with a combined system to purify and heat the water using sunlight, was her innovative solution. Petra Wadström called her invention SolvattenThis means sun and water in Swedish. This jerry can is a two-in-one invention. It opens like a book to reveal two five-litre containers. Each of them has a transparent lid. The opened jerry can is filled with water and then exposed to the sunlight at a specific angle. The lids allow sun’s rays to penetrate the water destroying the structure of DNA linkages in microorganisms. This prevents them from reproducing and pasteurising the water. .
The jerry can is made of high robust, high-quality materials to ensure a lifespan of 7 to 10 years this means that it withstands those early years in which children are at their most susceptible to waterborne diseases.
Clean and Hot Water to Improve Children’s Health
In 2016, Kinondo Kwetu Clinic registered an increased number of diarrhoea cases, in children under five-years-old. They were suspected to be water-borne. The Solvatten Foundation decided that children in Kinondo Kwetu Clinic should have access to clean hot water. In order to achieve this the foundation donated a number of Solvatten jerry cans to Kinondo Clinic.
Mwana Lima was one of the beneficiaries. She knew first-hand what it meant to have little firewood. Only a few of her children could wash in clean warm water during the colder months. Her young children frequently caught respiratory infections. She usually cooks over an open fire in a shed by the house. Every time she cooks she breathes in smoke.
Boiling water is one of the traditional methods of making water safe in Kwale Country. Because of this women and girls have to cut down the trees. Sanitation and making water available are not yet guaranteed in many African countries. There already exist wells and facilities to access water, but they are not well kept. Lack of maintenance forces communities to find water from unsafe sources, as has been revealed by different reports.
Solvatten’s collaboration with Kinondo Kwetu Clinic aims to improve the health of malnourished under-two-year old children while upgrading the washing and sanitation conditions for the under-fives. As with Mwana Lima, Solvatten gave their jerry cans to another 636 local families, that’s around 4,000 people.
The foundation set certain conditions to ensure that families can enjoy better hygiene for their under-five-year-old children. In the event of families not fulfilling the commitment, they have to return the Solvatten jerry cans to the clinic so that other families can use them responsibly.
Life changed for Mwana Lima and her family after using Solvatten. She uses it twice per day. She has experienced how her own health and that of her children has improved as a result. What’s more, her children no longer suffer from diarrhoea
To date, more than 300,000 people have benefited from Solvatten jerry cans. Safe water has prevented eye infections, diarrhoea, and water-borne diseases for thousands of its users. “Preventative health is key to offset our high cost for treating outpatients”, says Harrison Kaing, CEO of Kinondo Kwetu Clinic.
Preventative health is key to offset our high cost for treating outpatients, says Harrison Kaing, CEO of Kinondo Kwetu Clinic
Reducing the Costs in Health Care
Around 35 euros per person is the cost to ensure that communities will have long-term, sustainable access to clean water, decent sanitation and hygiene, according to a World Health Organisation report. Solvatten adds a wide range of values for long-term health interventions. Hence is highly-cost effective.
Humanitarian relief agencies and governments can procure the jerry cans to reach those in impoverished areas where infrastructure is poor. By doing so clinics will better prevent and control cholera outbreaks.
The government of Kenya should budget for the local ministry of health and support rural health clinics and NGO’s to include Solvatten and the distribution in all Kenyan Counties. This will contribute to reduce and better manage cholera outbreaks, prevent respiratory diseases and meet the Sustainable Development Goals.
Solvatten is focusing on health, renewable energy and empowerment of women through strategic collaboration. Building strong and sustainable partnerships with private companies, NGOs and the public sector is a priority for us. We believe this is needed to achieve a sustainable future for all.
Environmental Journalist, Jordi Albacete, Founder of Cosmopolita Scotland and Chief Editor for its Environment section is collaborating with the Swedish social enterprise Solvatten in Stockholm through an entrepreneurial Erasmus programme. As a result of this collaboration, Cosmopolita Scotland will publish a series of articles focusing on Solvatten’s impact on public health, climate change and deforestation.
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