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Study shows reduction in waterborne illnesses after program installed water treatment systems
Pentair Inc. announced the results of the multi-year Project Safewater-Colón initiative and research, funded by The Pentair Foundation. Project Safewater-Colón demonstrates that it is possible to provide people in developing countries with affordable and sustainable sources of safe drinking water.
More than one billion people around the world, most of them in developing nations, lack access to safe water. The result is that preventable waterborne diseases continue to be a leading cause of illness and death globally. Every day, approximately 25,000 people, mainly children in developing countries, die from preventable waterborne diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
The U.N. Millennium Goal Number 7C calls for cutting in half the proportion of the world’s population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
In 2006, the Pentair Foundation committed $4.7 million to fund Project Safewater-Colón. The program was conducted in the remote district of Colón, Honduras, where nearly the entire region’s approximately 350,000 people lived without clean water and approximately one-quarter of them lacked adequate sanitation facilities.
Pentair’s Project Safewater-Colón is a comprehensive program that funded the installation of more than 200 water treatment systems and more than 10,000 individual sanitation facilities in Colón, which serve approximately 75% of the region. Project Safewater-Colón also encompassed widespread community education programs to heighten awareness of the importance of safe, clean drinking water, and the connection between good hygiene practices and health. Additionally, to ensure that safe, treated water continues to be available beyond Pentair’s initial funding period, Project Safewater-Colón established a micro-enterprise business model in which the local community owns the water treatment systems and users pay their communities a nominal fee for potable water. The individual user fee is established by the local community to cover the ongoing operation and maintenance of its system.
Once installed, the system costs less than five cents per person per day to operate.
Water Missions International, a nonprofit organization that addresses the water and sanitation needs of people in developing countries, served as Pentair’s on-the-ground partner in Colón.
Concurrently, an independent study on Project Safewater-Colón’s health impact was led by Dr. Jeffery L. Deal, director of anthropology and water studies for the Center for Global Health, Medical University of South Carolina. The Project Safewater-Colón research program offered an objective study to evaluate and quantify the impact that water purification systems can have on peoples’ health in a developing country. The research involved the participation and cooperation of the Honduran Department of Health.
The study’s methodologies incorporated a combination of ethnographic data, medical chart reviews and immunoassays for three of the most common waterborne protozoan pathogens.
Baseline testing, completed in 2007, identified and evaluated water sources in 613 communities in the district of Colón. The Project Safewater-Colón study measured the water quality in all of these water sources and found that high counts of coliform bacteria, indicative of fecal contamination, were present in every water source.
The Project Safewater-Colón study measured waterborne illness rates among three groups of participants:
The Control Group: no water treatment system, no sanitary system and no community education programming;
The Water Only Group: water treatment system had been operational for one full year, no sanitary system and included community education programming; and
The Water and Sanitation Group: water treatment system had been operational for one full year, sanitary system had been completed and community education programming had been implemented.
Final data compiled in 2010 demonstrated a significant difference between those who received access to treated water, sanitation and education, and those in the control group who did not. The results showed that only 4.5% of the water-only group tested positive for parasites and 3.8% of the water and sanitation group tested positive for parasites, compared to 25% percent for the control group, resulting in an 80% improvement.
Additionally, medical records from four Colón health clinics pointed to a decline of 50% in the number of diarrhea disease cases they encountered once Project Safewater-Colon was fully operational following a 34-month post-installation timeframe.