Marketing Safe Water Systems – By Urs Heierli

Why It Is So Hard To Get Safe Water To The Poor – And So Profitable To Sell It To The Rich?

Why is it that the global market for bottled water is booming, with astounding annual growth rates, sometimes as high as 50 per cent, and why is the progress in providing safe water to the poor so sluggish ? Why do more than 300 children still die of diarrhoeal diseases every hour ?
It is not for the lack of affordable solutions. Solar disinfection, chlorination, filtration by slow-sand and ceramic filters, and ultraviolet treatment are all effective methods and have been scientifically proven to reduce child mortality considerably.
For some years the right solution seemed to be to provide piped water to all households, with ‘ Point of use water treatment and storage systems ‘ ( POUs ) considered either unnecessary or merely intermediate solutions. However, of late, two factors have put POUs much higher on the
development agenda :
1. First, many poor people will have to wait for quite some time until they get access to piped water, and they need a solution now.
2. Second, even if piped water is available, it can be contaminated or re-contaminated on the way to the user, either by leaks in the piped system or by re-contamination during transport and storage.
There is thus a huge need for POUs that treat water and make it safe just before it is consumed. Several studies have shown that diarrhoeal diseases can be reduced considerably when sanitation and hygiene standards are improved.
POUs lack good dissemination and marketing strategies.
Many POU systems are poorly marketed and have considerable deficiencies in respect of the five Ps of marketing :
1. The products are not very suitable, practical or well designed. If anything, they are practical but do not look like ‘ must-have ‘ products.
2. The pricing of POUs is not attractive for either buyer or seller. While mobile phones can be paid for in instalments while being used, water filters need to be paid for upfront in cash.
3. There is no obvious point-of-sale to buy POUs because there is no money in it for retailers.
4. Promotion leaves much to be desired, even when it is present, despite the fact that safe water may require
behavioural changes.
5. People ( the 5th P ) do not automatically put safe water high on their agenda, and there is very little continual social marketing to influence them. They claim they do not have 10 dollars to buy a filter but may spend much higher amounts on beer, cosmetics and other less-essential consumer goods.
For POUs to take hold would require a marketing campaign similar to that used with insecticide-treated mosquito nets. This means a concerted and comprehensive action programme involving the public and private sectors to bring about change and to scale-up dissemination from tens of thousands of POUs per year to tens of millions. We hope that this book provides inputs and suggestions for bringing POUs to that other, higher, level of dissemination. This will only be possible if the level of funding inputs is comparable to that used for mosquito nets.

François Muenger
Senior Water Advisor
SDC Swiss Agency for Development
and Cooperation

Author : Urs Heierli is an economist ( Ph.D., University of St . Gallen ).
From 1987 to 1999 he served as country director of SDC – the Swiss
Agency for Development and Cooperation in Bangladesh and India.
During a subsequent sabbatical, he wrote the study ‘ Poverty Alleviation
as a Business ‘ and then joined the Employment and Income
Division at SDC head office in Berne. In November 2003, he launched
his own consulting company, msd consulting ( Markets, Sustainability
and Development ) in Berne, to focus further on the market creation
approach to development.

Foreword : François Muenger, Senior Water Advisor, SDC
Peer review: Armon Hartmann, former Senior Water Advisor, SDC
Editor : Paul Osborn, Médiateurs, Netherlands
Photos : Urs Heierli, Population Services International ( Waterguard ),
G . Allgood, Procter & Gamble ( PUR Photos ), Antenna Technologies
( WATA photos ), SODIS Foundation ( SODIS new designs ).
Design/layout : Claudia Derteano, Isabelle Christ
Copyright : SDC – Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation,
Employment and Income Division / Urs Heierli ( msd consulting ),

1st Edition : September 2008, printed in India

Copies : Hard copies are available from :
SDC Social Development Division ( ) and
SDC Employment and Income Division ; ( )
Electronic copies can be downloaded from : ; ;

Film clips : A companion CD with many film clips is in the back
cover of this book. The clips are also available for download from

This publication is supported by :
Employment and Income Division and
Social Development Division
SDC – Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation
Freiburgstrasse 130
CH-3003 Berne

This publication is co-published by :
Antenna Technologies
29, rue de Neuchâtel
CH-1201 Geneva

Connect International :
Jan van Houtkade 50
2311 PE

Download complete document:  Safewater.pdf 5.32MB

Diagram for a screening machine

Attached are two images and one sketchup file describing the components of a simple mostly wooden machine for screening materials (such as sawdust).




The sketchup file viewer program is necessary for viewing the sketchup 3D CAD diagram, you can download various versions of it here:

IDEASS filter publication

Innovation for Development and South-South Cooperation (IDEASS Nicaragua)
This is a presentation by Ron Rivera combining many areas of supportive research towards CWF Filtron.
12 pages, useful images, bacteriological test chart, sanitation methods comparison chart, manufacturing process explained.

Download pdf document 308kb : UN filter publication.pdf

Capabilities and Short History of the Filtron Design Ceramic Water Filter (CWF)

The water filter design that is now used in Nicaragua was invented by a Guatemalan chemist, Fernando Mazareigos.   This design was the first that we know of where the capabilities of a ceramic filter were combined with the antimicrobial capabilities of colloidal silver. 

 In 1981, the InterAmerican Bank financed a comparative study to determine which of ten appropriate technology filters best met the following criteria:


 Has a sufficient flow rate for home use

 Is effective at removing bacteria

 Is simple to manufacture

 Can be made with available materials

 Can be made and sold at low cost

 Contributes to economic activity at low-income level

 Ease of distribution

Download Full Document: Capabilities of the Filter.doc

Problems in the Field and Solutions

The most basic of all problems with regard to “filter” use comes from the choice of words. In some information given out by PFP/Filtron, and in studies conducted in the field, clear distinctions were not made between the filter element (the filter that is made of clay and coated with colloidal silver), the receptacle (the plastic bucket or clay receptacle in which the filter element sits), and the complete product called Filtron in this manual…

Download Full Document: Problems in the Field.doc

Potable Water, Purified Water, and Water Treatment Processes

Potable Water can be described as all water used for human consumption that does not pose a health danger and which is microbiologically safe and free of all pathogenic microorganisms and bacteria associated with fecal contamination. In the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) it is water with (0) fecal coliforms, (0) Giardia lamblia, (0) Legionella, (0) enteroviruses. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (2002), “E.Coli or thermotolerant coliform bacteria must not be detectable in any 100 ml sample.” It can be produced by any method or can be naturally occurring.

Download Full Document: Methods of treatment Point of use.doc

Diarrhea and Its Causes

Diarrhea can be defined as the passing of frequent, loose or watery stools more than four times a day (SAFETI Adaptation of Peace Corps Resources). Diarrhea is, in effect, the effort of the body to expel the disease-causing microbes.

In order to survive and cause disease in the body, pathogenic bacteria must remain there and multiply. The cells of the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract and the genito-urinary tract are covered in mucus membranes. A thick layer of mucus helps prevent penetration of bacteria. Mucus membranes are constantly flushed by fluids that prevent bacteria from becoming established, move bacteria through the system, and kill or inhibit growth. Natural antibodies and fever also kill pathogenic bacteria.

Download Full Report: Diarrhea and its Causes.doc

Follow Up Field Report

Report on follow-up training to accompany Filter projects in the field.

Potters for Peace and the Filtron workshop in Nicaragua have produced over 20,000 colloidal silver impregnated ceramic water filters (Filtrons). The majority of these Filtrons were purchased and distributed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) throughout rural Nicaragua. The Filtron consists of a filter that sits in a clay or plastic receptacle. Though laboratory testing of the ceramic filters showed a consistent 98% to 100% removal of bacteria, field studies revealed bacterial recontamination of water in up to 80% of water sampled from the filter receptacles. This can be largely attribute to bad cleaning practices, incomplete or inaccurate training of NGOs distributing the filters, and a general lack of understanding on the part of both rural health promoters and users about how the filter works, required maintenance, and the nature and origin of waterborne disease.

Download full document: Field report on filters use.doc

Colloidal Silver – Background

Silver has been used as a medicine and preservative by many cultures throughout history The Greeks used silver vessels for water and other liquids to keep them fresh.Silver was used by the Romans to preserve water in storage jars. During war campaigns Alexander the Great boiled and stored water in silver or bronze urns to reduce waterborne disease.

Silver was used as a medicine in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Silver, along with other metals was discovered to possess microbicidal properties but silver alone showed both strong microbicidal properties and low or no toxicity to humans. The colloidal state proved to be the most effective form because it lacked the caustic properties of salts (such as silver nitrate) and demonstrated a high level of activity with very low concentrations (oligodynamic). In 1881 silver nitrate was first used for the prevention of gonorrhea. In 1884, the German obstetrician F. Crede administered 1% silver nitrate to the eyes of newborn infants, virtually eliminating the incidence of disease-caused blindness in newborns. When antibiotics came into widespread use in the 1930s, the use of colloidal silver was dropped.
Download full document: Colloidal Silver1.doc

MIT Thinkcycle PFP Filter Evaluation


During the last decade, several projects tackling water treatment for low-income households have likely failed due the utilization of inappropriate technology or deficient monitoring. Our team has used a system that ensures a bi-directional transfer of technology and knowledge for water purification at a household level. Through an innovative methodology design based on an iterative and real-time feedback loop, we have been able to establish solid partnership with key players in the field who have implemented a 6-month monitoring program in order to assess the performance of Potters for Peace ceramic water filters. Microbiological performance of the filter in the filter was promising but did not meet WHO targets. Survey results suggest that periodic training and constant monitoring is essential to ensure the appropriate use and successful implementation of this new technology.

Download Full Document:  MIT thinkcycle PFP filter evaluation.doc

Zamorano Harvard Report

Household Water Filters as part of the Kitchen Improvement Project

(Cocinas Rurales)

PROMESA is a small international health program that has been working to improve the conditions in the Yeguare region of Honduras for the past four years. Currently PROMESA is working on a kitchen improvement project in four small communities (La Ciénega, Las Tablas, Las Agujas, and Rodeo) in the region. This project’s focus is to improve the health status of the families by improving the health standards in the kitchen by offering materials to improve earth stoves, install drains, sinks, install mesh on windows, and install concrete floors. One improvement that was offered to the families in the communities was a household size water filtration system to purify contaminated water. There are a variety of filtration systems; however, it was necessary to find an inexpensive, functional, and long lasting system. One filter that met those requirements was the Filtron.

The Filtron is a ceramic filter that is marketed by Potters for Peace and is one method to decontaminate water that is used for human consumption. The filter works in two ways: as a filter to remove large contaminants such as protozoa, helminthes, etc., and as a disinfectant by using colloidal silver to clean the water of potentially harmful bacteria. The silver is spread on the sides and bottom of the filter. Water passes through the pores that are formed in the manufacturing process. When the water passes through these pores it comes in contact with the colloidal silver, which acts as a bactericide. The filter is an alternative to chlorination, boiling, or using solar energy to decontaminate water (1).

Download full document:Zamorano Harvard report.doc