Mwana Lima is a single mother of four; one of which was born with a disability. She lives in a small village in Kwale County in Southern Kenya. Her village lies on a thin, coral layer just above sea level. Sanitation and fresh water is a challenge for Mwana Lima and her neighbors as it involves digging through the coral layer to create a borehole for water or a pit latrine for sanitation.
Health is an ever-present concern for Kwale County inhabitants and the inhabitants of this large territory, which spreads from the northern
Kenyan coastal county of Mombasa to the southern Kenya-Tanzania border. Mwana Lima has become accustomed to having her own children suffer with diarrhea. Every day she must rise dawn, fetch firewood and search for water which she boils over a fire to render it safe for drinking. This is just one of the numerous daily tasks she undertakes to keep her household going.
A lack of access to clean, safe water is a continuous health hazard in Mawana Lima’s neighbors in area and outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera are widespread. Boiling water is the only way to render it safe for drinking and that creates a dependence on firewood that affects women like Mwana Lima the most. They must carry out the time-consuming task of collecting enough wood to cover the needs of all household activities. When time or supplies are scarce, the alternative is buying wood, which is a luxury when money is already tight for families living in this region.
Swedish environmentalist Petra Wadström realized that something needed to be done to halt deforestation while improving the living conditions of women in rural areas. Understanding the environmental and health impacts of boiling water came to Petra after witnessing the lives of poor farmers in Indonesia. She spent years designing a solution to harness the power of plentiful solar energy that could provide safe drinkable water and plentiful hot water for washing and would lessen the impact on the environment.
Her innovative solution was to design a 10-liter jerry can with a combined system to purify and heat the water using sunlight. Petra called her invention Solvatten, which means sun and water in Swedish. The jerry can is a two-in-one invention – it opens like a book to reveal two five-liter containers, each with a transparent lid. The opened jerry can is filled with water and then placed in the sun at a specific angle. The transparent lids amplify the effect of the sun’s rays to heat and penetrate the water, destroying DNA linkages in microorganisms and preventing them from reproducing. This, in effect, pasteurizes the water.
Solvatten’s jerry can is literally a life-saver in remote and arid region’s like Mwana Lima’s home. Having access to safe, warm water serves everyone in the community, but is particularly important for children, who are more susceptible to waterborne diseases. The Solvatten jerry can is made of robust, high-quality materials providing clean, safe water for seven to ten years.
In 2016, Kinondo Kwetu Clinic registered an worrisome increase in the number of diarrhea cases in children under five-years-old. The illness was suspected to be the result waterborne pathogens. In an effort to help, The Solvatten Foundation donated a number of Solvatten jerry cans to the Kinondo Clinic and Mwana Lima was one of the recipients. She knew first-hand that having insufficient access to firewood was the reason that only a few of her children could wash in clean, warm water during the colder months, and her young children were frequently ill. Because she also usually cooks over an open fire in a shed by the house, every time she needed to boil water added to the smoke her family breathes, causing respiratory infections. Access to water from a Solvatten unit reduced her need to cut down the trees and burn wood and eliminated the risk of using water from unsafe sources.
Solvatten’s collaboration with Kinondo Kwetu Clinic had a stated goal of improving the health of malnourished children under the age of two and upgrading the washing and sanitation conditions for children under the age of five. In addition to Mwana Lima, 636 other local families recieved a Solvatten jerry cans which benefits about 4,000 people in the region.
Life changed for Mwana Lima and her family after using Solvatten. She uses it twice per day and sees how her own health and that of her children has improved as a result – her children no longer suffer from diarrhea.
To date, approximately 370,000 people have benefited from Solvatten jerry cans and access to safe, warm water has prevented eye infections, diarrhea, and waterborne diseases. “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
According to a a World Health Organization report, it costs at least $40 per person to ensure that communities will have long-term, sustainable access to clean water, decent sanitation and hygiene. Solvatten’s initial affordability and long-term value make it a cost-effective solution for long-term health planning.
Humanitarian relief agencies and governments can use Solavatten’s jerry cans to serve people in impoverished areas with poor water and energy infrastructures, helping to prevent and control cholera outbreaks.
Because of its advantages, the government of Kenya includes Solvatten in their budget for the local ministry of health, and recommends that rural health clinics and NGOs also include Solvatten in their plans throughout Kenya. This approach will contribute to reduce and better manage cholera outbreaks, prevent respiratory diseases, and help meet the UN’s 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. This collaboration will achieve a sustainable future for all.
The generous contribution of H.M. Queen Silvia of Sweden’s Care About the Children Foundation and company supporters have made this project possible. For more information about this project or how you can help, please contact us.