are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.
|Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge||MOST/NUFFIC (IK-Unit)|
The use of locally produced clay pots modified for safe storage of drinking water in the home–a component of CARE Kenya’s Nyanza Healthy Water Project
Community health, drinking water, health,
pottery, water storage
Introducing the practice
This practice has been developed in
three districts of Nyanza Province in Kenya: Homa Bay, Rachuonyo, and Suba. The
major ethnic group are the Luos, who live on the shores of Lake Victoria, one of
the largest fresh water lakes in Africa. The climate is hot and the population
density very high. The main water sources are lakes, rivers and earth-pans,
which are normally heavily polluted.
The main livelihood systems are
subsistence farming, petty trading, agricultural wage labour, and small-scale
commercial fishing. Local infrastructure and access to services is poor.
CARE’s 1996 and 1999 assessments found that only 34% of the population has
access to safe drinking water and the incidence of diarrhoea among children is
47%. Poor sanitation, poor nutritional standards, high prevalence of STDs/HIV/AIDS,
low food production, and lack of access to credit are all common in this area.
Traditionally, as in many parts of the
developing world, people in these communities have stored drinking water in
locally produced wide-mouth clay pots. The baseline survey indicated that over
90% of the residents use these pots, which have an evaporative cooling effect on
the water, thus the high preference.
Water is drawn from the pots using a
calabash or a cup. Often the cups, or the hands holding them, are contaminated.
As a result, the water is contaminated and those who drink it become infected.
Water contamination during storage and handling has resulted in diarrhoeal
diseases, a problem that is further aggravated by poor water sources. Because
the people were not willing to change to plastic vessels designed to reduce or
eliminate post-contamination, local potters, with technical assistance from the
Nyanza Healthy Project team, began to produce modified clay pots. They fitted
the conventional pots with a narrow mouth, a spigot, a lid and a flat base for
easy water extraction. There is a space to retain sediment and the water is
treated, stored and accessed through the spigot.
The technology to produce the pots
relies on the indigenous skills of local potters. The modification is not a
major deviation from the conventional pot; its original colour, form and
function are maintained. Up to 90% of the raw materials are natural and
available locally, while the others are available in local shops and markets.
The modified pots are very popular with the local people. They can still store
their water in the traditional way, which keeps the water cool and improves its
palatability, while the modified design prevents the transmission of disease.
The practice of mounting taps on clay
pots originated in the community and is nothing new. Potters throughout the
region do it, although the practice is not widespread. Most pots with spigots
were made in response to special orders from customers. The potters fix taps on
the traditional, wide-mouthed pots for the same reason taps are mounted on the
new pots: to make it easier to extract water. The only technical aspects that
did not originate locally are the modified features, such as the narrow mouth
with a lid, and the sedimentation pouch. These suggestions were made by the
project team to make the pots technologically effective in preventing post
contamination, while remaining acceptable to the local people.
This practice is ongoing. It started in
February 2001 as an alternative component of the CARE Kenya Nyanza Healthy Water
Content and approach
The purpose of the modified clay pots is
to minimize the re-contamination of treated water during storage, and thus to
reduce the incidence of waterborne disease transmission, which usually takes the
form of diarrhoea in children under five years old. This purpose is served
whilst retaining an aspect of traditional culture–the storage of drinking
water in clay pots.
The modified pots are produced by a
local women’s pottery group. During the testing period, the improved pots were
produced for distribution by the project, but more recently the women have been
allowed to produce and sell directly to consumers (households) in the
surrounding local markets, along with their other clay products. Ultimately, it
is up to households themselves to buy and use the pots. In most cases, the
mother of the household is responsible for the practice. All members of the
household benefit from drinking safe water but the largest impact is expected in
children under five years of age, as this group suffers most from diarrhoeal
The pots are manufactured and sold to
the community at an affordable price. This is an income-generating activity. At
the household level, the water is treated with a sodium hypo-chlorite solution
and stored in the pots. When the pots are empty they are cleaned with sisal or
twine and sand and refilled. The project helps the producers to reach the
consumers through hygiene education, social marketing and a community
CARE uses social marketing techniques to
promote the use of modified clay pots for the safe storage of water. These
consist of football tournaments, puppet shows, posters, brochures and
participatory educational theatre. After disseminating information about the
pots, CARE uses a community-based distribution network to make them accessible
and affordable to rural residents in the target area.
The role of indigenous knowledge
The community’s indigenous knowledge
was the primary factor in the design and production of the modified clay pots.
Because the pots were produced locally, they are widely accepted by the
population. The long experience of the potters helped them learn how to place a
spigot in the pots.
The modification of the pots does not
affect the long tradition in the community of using clay pots as storage vessels
for drinking water, which has been passed on from generation to generation,
since the pots maintain their original form and function. They still keep the
water cool and improve its taste, as they always have. Clay pots are valued
assets in households. This is evident in the careful way they are handled and
maintained. Once a pot is bought it is used for as long 20-30 years without
transfer of knowledge
The knowledge needed to make the
modified clay pots resides primarily with the specialists, in this case the
potters. The potters are paid for the pots they sell.
Young girls develop an early interest in making pots; they play with clay while their mothers mould pots, and they gradually learn to mould pots themselves. In every village there is at least one specialist who is able to transmit the skills to young, newly married women in the area who are interested in becoming potters. The potters do not record or document their knowledge at all, but pass it on informally from generation to generation.
Achievements and results
This is considered a Best Practice
because it facilitates safe storage and reduces the diarrhoeal disease caused by
the re-contamination of drinking water. Because the practice of making modified
clay pots is based on indigenous knowledge, it is cost-effective. It is a
technology that the community adopts easily because the modifications are
compatible with the original product. The changes are minimal but vital for the
effectiveness of the practice. There is evidence that this, by itself, would be
effective in preventing disease transmission. Treating the water with sodium
hypo-chlorite is clearly not indigenous. CARE Kenya is promoting both strategies,
safe storage in locally produced clay pots and treatment with locally available
sodium hypo-chlorite solution, to maximize the potential for disease prevention
in communities with high rates of diarrhoea. This is necessary because the water
in this region is highly turbid. The organic material in the water eventually
settles in the bottom of the pot, but below the tap. This allows the water to
exit through the tap. The promotion of both the sodium hypo-chlorite for water
treatment and the design modification to raise the taps to allow for
sedimentation are intended to improve local technology and increase the
potential for disease prevention.
The 1% sodium hypo-chlorite solution is manufactured by a private Kenyan company and packaged in a bottle with an 8 ml cap that serves as a dosing device. The pots are cleaned with sand and sisal, a locally available fibre used to make ropes and commonly used for scrubbing dishes. The project uses hygiene education, social marketing, and community mobilization techniques to assist the potters in teaching buyers how to clean the pots properly. However, the practice of scrubbing clay pots with sisal is indigenous to these communities.
When modified pots were introduced in
the communities, demand for them was overwhelming. So far 180 pots have been
sold. A traditional clay pot costs around two dollars while a modified one costs
around four dollars. The target groups are poor families and yet the higher
price did not stop them from replacing their old pots. This shows the value
which the local people attach to the improved pot. They recognise its health
benefits, particularly after publicity sensitised them to the issue. This
practice facilitates the effective des-infection of water with chlorine over a
period of time.
The population was monitored for
diarrhoea for eight weeks to determine the health impact of the intervention.
This data is still being analysed.
The practice is sustainable, cost-effective and locally manageable. Because the modified clay pots are sold (and not given away) to families, they are a source of revenue for the potters. As long as there is a demand for the pots, the activity is sustainable. Second, the clay pots are affordable for the average rural Kenyan family. For a small amount of money, a family can store water safely and thus prevent disease. The cost of missing work due to illness far exceeds the cost of the pot. Thus, the strategy is cost-effective. Third, the activity is locally manageable because the skill and materials for making the pots come from the community. Nothing external is needed for the production and sale of the pots. Local people benefit from this approach in two ways: first, households are able to access a tool that enables them to store water safely and thus to reduce the incidence of diarrhoea; and second, the approach promotes economic activity in the community as the pots are produced and sold by local pottery groups.
Strengths and weaknesses
This practice offers a safe way to store
water in the home without a drastic change from the traditional method. The
changes to the pots are small, but important. The opening is narrower, with a
lid, and there is a spigot. In addition, the modified pot does not cost
significantly more than the traditional pot. It also provides an extra way for
local potters to generate income.
One potential weakness of the modified
pot is that, for the poorest families, the small increase in price makes it
slightly expensive. Often these are the families with the greatest exposure to
diarrhoea risks. The pots are also fragile and need to be handled with extra
care. Lastly, because the moulding is done manually, the pots are not of a
Safe water storage is one way of providing households with safe water. When combined with treatment with a disinfectant such as sodium hypo-chlorite the benefits in reducing waterborne disease are greatly enhanced. The practice can be improved further by developing a mould to help standardise sizes, synergising safe storage with water des-infection, and a behaviour change to maximise the health benefits.
Source of inspiration
This practice is applicable anywhere
where clay pots are used for storing water in the home. The only local
adaptations that would be needed are knowledge of the design modifications to
make the pots safer for water storage. The availability of spigots would also
have to be ensured.
Replication in terms of usage is very
high. People from neighbouring villages have been flocking to the villages where
the project is active to purchase the pots and are already using them. This has
happened without intervention from CARE.
Replicability in terms of production has
not yet picked up momentum. The groups wishing to manufacture the modified pots
will need some training on workmanship, e.g. how to fix the taps, get the size
right and narrow the mouth. This training is still under way.
If you think that this case could be useful in a different context than the one described here, please get in touch first with the contact person listed below (Administrative data). Intellectual property rights could be an issue.
Additional remarks and information
In the communities where this project is
currently being implemented, the geology is such that improved water points,
such as wells, are not feasible. Most people get their water from hand-dug
earth-pans, ponds, rivers, or Lake Victoria. As a result, the only way the
population can have potable water is to store it safely in the home. In
communities such as these, where the only water source is contaminated surface
water, policy makers should promote household treatment and safe storage.
However, even in communities with improved water sources, if water is stored in
the home, safe storage and household treatment is necessary.
The project is currently grappling with the problem of producing moulds that potters can use to produce pots with standard volumes. We are interested in pots of 20 litres and 40 litres. So far, it has proved difficult for the potters to consistently mould pots with these exact volumes.
CARE International in Kenya
P.O. Box 88, Kisumu, Kenya
Tel.: +254 35 20010
Fax: +254 35 43820
P.O. Box 526, Homa Bay, Kenya
Tel.: +254 385 22517
Fax: +254 385 22041
organization(s) involved in the practice
Foodborne and Diarrhoeal Diseases Branch
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road NE, MS A-38
Atlanta, GA 30033
The total budget for the period from November 1999 to August 2001 was USD 250,000. This was provided by the Woodruff Foundation, in the USA.
who have described this Best Practice
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
+1 404 6392206
Fax: +1 404 6392205
To MOST Clearing House Best Practices on Poverty and Social Exclusion
To MOST/CIRAN Database of Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge
To MOST Clearing House Homepage