How the Sun Helps Nairobi's Slum Dwellers Get Clean Water

Access to water is a central issue for slum dwellers around the world. Getting water is often a time-consuming endeavor that involves waiting in long lines and walking great distances. Water is often more expensive for the poor than for the wealthy, demanding a large portion of families' budgets. In addition, the water is frequently contaminated -- dirty water is responsible for 80 percent of all sickness and disease worldwide, and for 15 million child deaths each year. recently showcased several urban approaches from Jakarta, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Mexico City, Cairo, and Dhaka that are helping ensure slum dwellers' access to clean and affordable water.

A Nairobi-based campaign was initiated based on the simple principle that the best way to sanitize water is by using one of the most widely available resources to people in the southern hemisphere: the sun. This campaign utilizes cheap and reusable plastic bottles to expose water to the sun, allowing the sunlight's UV-A rays to kill germs in the water. Although the system is not widely known, UNICEF deemed it "low-cost, effective and manageable at the household level."


In Mumbai's slums, a social enterprise called WaterWalla was launched to enable new safe drinking water solutions come to market effectively, efficiently and collaboratively. The pilot project focused on point-of-use filters that were sold to individual households by local entrepreneurs recruited by WaterWalla. The program also includes mentoring, education, start-up funding, and tools for businesses working with urban water issues.

As the streets flood in Jakarta during the monsoon season, the need for clean water rises, just as access gets more difficult. An Indonesian research and technology organization, BPPT, has created a mobile water-filtration system to filter and purify floodwater into clean water, which has already proved useful during the massive floods of January 2013.


In response to Dhaka's expensive and unclean water situation, a group of engineers have come up with a plan that integrates four major components: socio-economic issues, biophysical issues, institutional issues, and water quality issues. The group recommends several possibilities to recycle and reuse water. Some, like the rainwater harvesting and reclaiming, have already been implemented to great success.

The Iztapalapa neighborhood in Mexico City does not have publicly supplied access to clean water. Private water companies deliver water in trucks instead, and at a much higher cost compared to government-supplied water in other neighborhoods. To address this problem, one of the strategies being implemented involves a system of artificial wells that collect and make available clean water during the rainy season.


In Cairo, an initiative has been started to educate students about the severity of water problems in Egypt and to introduce water conservation methods and environmentally friendly, sustainable solutions. The program started with a core group of students, who then traveled to other areas to spread their knowledge, thereby increasing the program's reach and efficacy.

Thanks to initiatives like these, the UN's Millennium Development Goals Report shows that access to safe drinking has improved. Still, nearly one billion people lack safe sources of drinking water. Continuing to implement campaigns and to explore new approaches to improve water access and sanitation around the world will remain a global priority until basic water needs are adequately and universally met. Please join us on to read more about these initiatives and to join the conversation.

Images: the girl in the blue: WaterAid/GMB Akash/Panos; the shop in India: WaterWalla; the children in a classroom: WESC