Thursday, March 29, 2007

SODIS - Solar Disinfection of Water

Just after our arrival in our new site at the end of November I started disinfecting our drinking water using the Sodis method. During our site visit in mid-November, I discovered that the taste of water boiled over a wood or charcoal has a disgusting smoky flavor. It’s like drinking charcoal tea. Refreshing? Hardly. Something different had to be done.

Fortunately during training, we learned about this method of solar disinfection of water. It requires filling plastic bottles (1 liter to 3 liters in size) and putting them on your roof in the full sun for a minimum of 6 hours. I was pretty skeptical and a bit worried. I had heard dire warnings from people that reusing plastic water bottles was dangerous because of leached toxins, high levels of bacteria, and poly-estrogen. This all may still be likely but sadly not our immediate concerns. We are more concerned about diarrhea, parasites and dehydration in the mid-90 degree desert weather. Of course this is also a concern for everyone else in El Porvenir too. However, many people forego boiling their water because they despise the taste, and instead drink untreated water. As a result, many suffer from diarrhea, and parasites or dehydration and kidney problems. An infant of 7 months from Cerro de Falla, a nearby caserio, recently died as a result of diarrhea – I don’t know the cause of the diarrhea, but it was dehydration that killed the child.

Over the last 3 ½ months it has become clear that not only is the Sodis method helpful for Dan & I, but also something I can pass along. Our host family has taken to it, especially Flor, our “mom” (she’s 33 year old so the “ ” are appropriate) who has become my local spokesperson for it. Also Dr. Marco at the health post in Querpón promotes it too. It’s been easy work for me. All I’ve done is tell a few key people about it and they’ve run with it. The doctor researched it online and Flor thinks it’s great because she doesn’t need to use charcoal, gas or wood and it tastes just like “raw” water. After an initial experimental phase of a week or so where we determined that it worked (look Ma, no diarrhea!), we offered to share it with our host family. They slowly started to drink it, but since it was in cumbersome plastic bottles that the teenagers had to unscrew (!!) and then pour into a glass (!!!), something far more difficult than drinking directly from the pitcher they dipped into the water barrel, they were slower to take to it than Flor. In January we purchased a 20 liter water jug (think Sparklets container with a spigot) that we now pour our sodis-ed water into. The teenagers found this way easier to navigate, even simpler than the pitcher/barrel method of drinking water. I did have to nip in the bud that practice of drinking directly from the spigot (Sucio! Dirty!). Being teenagers, they now fluctuate between drinking Sodis water (obedient children) to defiantly drinking from the water barrel (Qué Rebellious!). During the summer (that’s December, January and Febuary here in the southern hemisphere) we had a lot of kids running around the house and they were all fascinated with the water in the jug. We were soon going through 20 liters per day! Far more than a family of 6 can go through alone. Señora Fany, aka grandma, next door started doing her own Sodis water and ha pasado la voz (literally “passed the voice”) to her daughter way out in the campo and now her daughter is doing it too. Amazing how easy these things are to do. Just this pass week, Flor suggested the process to my favorite neighbor, Señora Carmela (77 year old, weaver, cute as a button, about 4ft. 8) who asked for some plastic bottles.

I’m trying not to do the hard sell on this disinfection process because, hey, if they are already boiling the water and are accustomed to the flavor why change. Also, there aren’t that many plastic bottles to be found out in the campo. People are poor and therefore don’t drink gaseosas (soft drinks) or buy bottled water so there just isn’t the supply of water bottles to do this project. I have found a few sources to help supply bottles for the project: 1) Dan & I – every time we go into the city we drink bottled water and bring the empty bottles back to the campo; 2) the hotel we stay at in Chiclayo is saving empty water bottles that are left by other hotel guests.

So check out the information at their website It might calm some of your fears about the method, or not. You might still be thinking that we are putting our selves at elevated risks for cancer. Of course, smoking for 15 years and living in LA for 10 I’m sure was fine for my health……….. ;)

I’ll post pictures later documenting the process for all you evidence nerds.