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With water quality at source and point of use a major concern, there is renewed interest in Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTSS).

The USAID WASH Transform project is supporting businesses to provide new Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) products on the Ethiopian market, particularly focusing on products for improved sanitation. These range from innovating new locally produced low cost products (see blog), to introducing proven products from other low-income markets (such as the SATO toilet pan and Silafrica plastic latrine slab). 

A major survey in 2016 reported that only 12.5% of improved water sources in rural areas meet water quality standards for E. coli contamination (see the WHO / UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme country file). While the Health Sector Transformation plan (HSTP) sets ambitious targets for household water treatment in Ethiopia, few households treat their water at all, with only 6% of rural households using an appropriate method to make water safe for drinking according to Ethiopia’s 2016 Demographic and Health Survey. So HWTSS is again getting attention.

Affordable local product needed

A range of HWTSS products are available on the local market. These include chlorine-based products as well as several different filters. Domestically produced filters include slow-sand filters which can be built from concrete or other materials, and ceramic pot filters although these are, sadly, no longer manufactured in Ethiopia. But, these are either bulky or delicate, and performance does not match more advanced imported products. High-performing filters like the Sawyer and LifeStraw are available in Ethiopia but are relatively costly. Foreign currency for importing products is scarce and the Ethiopian government encourages local manufacturing to boost the economy and create jobs. An affordable locally manufactured product is a potential game changer.

The MINCH Filter

The results of a small scale trial near Woliso in Oromia, conducted by the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church Development Centre and supported by the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) suggest that a local manufacturer might have made such a breakthrough. The MINCH (Amharic for spring) filter, manufactured in Addis Ababa and utilizing proprietary micron-scale loose filter media, has demonstrated similar performance levels in the consumer field trial to Sawyer and LifeStraw products. The filter has also passed tests by the Ethiopian Conformity Assessment Enterprise (ECAE).

Oxfam are now currently purchasing most of the MINCH filter production as part of the humanitarian response in Somali region, where there have been regular outbreaks of Acute Watery Diarrhea. However, water engineer Andrew Smith and his partners at Desert Rose have the ambition to further improve the product, scale up local manufacturing and ultimately sell the MINCH filter on the local market. The target sale price for their flagship model, comprising an attractive metal housing with integrated safe storage, is US$ 20. As well as aggressively pushing down costs through scale-economies, Desert Rose aims to create cheaper models that utilise alternative filter body materials.

Tackling the 'base of the pyramid' (BoP) market

With a recently awarded 'Innovations Against Poverty' grant, the company is investing to enhance scale. Additionally they are partnering with Ethiopian organisations to co-develop an innovative sales strategy that offers self-help group members an income by becoming advocates and sellers. However, manufacturing and supplying products for the 'base of the pyramid' (BoP) market remains a huge challenge.

The target customers are dispersed in rural communities, typically have low-incomes and are often not fully aware of the health and financial benefits that clean water can offer. In this context, conventional sales and marketing strategies often fall short. Companies like Desert Rose need to be innovative about reaching rural customers, not just with sales and marketing but most critically getting the product right. Andrew says that "Meeting the needs of a dispersed BoP market is challenging. But having a desirable product, fit for local mass production that does the job, at a price communities can afford, is fundamental.

There are opportunities for enhancing the technology Andrew says. "We funded the initial research ourselves and it’s been a challenge to convince the HWTSS and WASH communities that micron-media filters may offer a game-changing opportunity in contexts like Ethiopia. Now, with a major customer, two independent reports of field performance, and excellent test results from ECAE, momentum is building. There’s more interest from universities in the USA and Europe to take it further. We’re looking forward to gaining key research insights that we can fast-track through our manufacturing facility and on to field trials."

The team behind the MINCH filter are enthusiastic, and are confident that if they can crack the Ethiopian market it will be easier elsewhere. It may be just another filter, but whether it succeeds or not, will depend on it being a better one.

Disclaimer

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