Quirks & Quarks

Canadian engineering talent helps develop water filters in Africa

A young Canadian researcher is helping to develop a cost effective system in Tanzania

A young Canadian researcher is helping to develop a cost effective system in Tanzania

Robbie Venis with students from a local school in Longido. With their new ceramic water filter, students will be able to drink clean water after lunch. (Messiaki Kimrei)

In the rural town of Longido in Tanzania, water is in short supply, and all too frequently contaminated. 

Canadian environmental engineer Robbie Venis spent his summer working with local researchers to develop a simple, cost effective water filter for the people of Longido.

The climate in Longido is arid, and the only source of water for the town is runoff from a nearby mountain. Water is rationed and only available weekly. There's no water treatment for the communal taps and many possible sources of contamination. 

The untreated water leads to a host of illnesses including diarrhea, cholera, typhoid or/and e-coli poisoning. Most adults have sufficiently strong immune systems that when they become ill, symptoms are mild. More vulnerable populations, particularly children and pregnant women, can face much more dire —  even fatal —  consequences.

Robbie Venis working with a local company to make ceramic water filters. (John Sarooni)

Robbie Venis is a PhD student studying environmental engineering at Carleton University. This summer, he travelled all the way from Ottawa to Longido in an effort to bring clean drinking water to this remote African community. The project is conducted under Dr. Onita Basu's supervision. 

He has been working with a local company that makes simple ceramic water filters to improve their filter design. A primary goal is to reduce cost. Right now filters cost about $60 CAD per, largely because of the expensive disinfectant materials used in the design. This is beyond the means of many in Longido. Venis hopes to modify the design, and perhaps find different materials, so every rural household will be able to afford one and use it to remove contaminants in the water.

In the meantime, working with local and Canadian donors, he has helped to distribute 14 of the existing ceramic filters for free to local schools and a health clinic to help protect the most vulnerable people, and also to familiarize people with the use and benefits of water treatment.

Teaching proper handwashing techniques to high school students in Longido. (Cameron Moore)

"The community had a very positive reaction," said Venis. "They were extremely excited about the opportunity to have clean water. You could see the children's faces lighting up — they're excited about the fact that they have clean water at school that's cold and crisp and people really like the taste."

Venis's project is ongoing. He's still testing out new materials to improve the ceramic filter, and will be going back to Longido in January to see how the community has been using them.