This post was written by Andrea Ginsberg, project manager for the Clorox Safe Water pilot project.
If there is one thing we’ve learned from our Safe Water project in Peru, it’s to expect the unexpected.
Our current challenge is closing the gap between how community members describe their bleach dosing of water collected at public water sources and what our water tests are telling us. If people say they are participating but this number isn’t validated by scientific analysis, then we need to determine why so that we can get a true picture of community adoption, and more importantly, so that participants experience the full health benefit of treating their water.
To measure participation and to ensure microbiologically safe drinking water, we periodically survey random households to test the water collected from the public water sources. When community members dose their water with Clorox® bleach (a sodium hypochlorite solution), the bleach breaks down over time, ultimately disappearing entirely. If the water sample turns pink when tested, we have proof that the bleach dispenser was used and the water is safe.
Understanding the Gap
Of course, people could be exaggerating their use of the bleach dispensers. However, given the passion and behavior we saw during our visit to Peru in November, we believe the following three key factors are impacting the water test results:
- Under-dosing: As we watched the water collection process, we saw that many people received only a partial dose of bleach instead of the full metered amount. Some were turning the dispenser handle incorrectly, while others were hurrying to fill their containers and let some of the bleach splash onto the ground. Although a reduced dose of bleach may kill what’s in the water at that moment, under-dosing will impact the remaining bleach over time.
Dirty water containers: During our visit, we noted that many water containers were lined with a black substance that we later tested and found to be black algae, most likely coming from the river water they collect when truck-delivered water runs short. If too much algae is present, it will “use up” or break down the bleach too quickly, reducing its ability to continue killing germs.
- Water delivery delays: This challenge presents serious consequences for village health, as well as affecting verification of project participation. If water isn’t delivered, the household water that was treated with bleach and safe for drinking must be rationed. As the water sits for an extended period of time, the bleach disappears.
Given these observations, we believe more people are using the dispensers than our tests indicate. It’s just that by the time we test the water, the bleach is essentially gone in some cases. To address this issue, we’re working with PRISMA, our local implementation partner in Peru, to launch a focused education effort to reinforce proper dispenser use and container cleaning habits. And although we can’t address the water shortage at this time, it is important for us to evaluate future water tests in the context of this reality.
Please check back for more updates as we continue to observe, question and refine the Clorox Safe Water project.
Andrea Ginsberg is the project manager for the Clorox Safe Water pilot project. She works closely with Alexis Limberakis in the Clorox Eco Office and with PRISMA, the project’s local implementation partner in Peru.