Bio-sand Filters Introduced to Curb Water Crisis in Cameroon

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Story by Lum Edith Achamukong
Photos by Helen Ngoh
April 22, 2011

Cameroon, Fifteen women selected from some Councils and Divisions of the South West Region have been trained on how to set up and manage water filters for household and community use amidst increasing water crisis rocking the region. These women, mostly leaders, are expected to subsequently train other women in common initiative groups, ‘njangi ‘ (meeting) houses, and schools on this filter that filters water through sand and gravel.

The two day training was a collective effort by the ‘Association of Women for Peace Buea’ and the ‘Global Women’s Water Initiative’ to enlighten trainees on how to convert water fetched from streams, springs and rivers to potable water. Technical and material support was received from the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) established since 2001 to take care of the water needs of local communities. The centre has been actively working on the field in some if Cameroon’s ten regions for the past three years. CAWST uniquely designed the bio-sand filter ten years ago to meet the needs of even the poorest communities, reason why setting it up requires local materials.

Women washing sand in buckets during the training

According to a technical adviser from CAWST, Canadian born Emilie Sanmartin, water from any source can be passed through the bio-sand filter and consumed without any fears given that the instrument has the ability to remove up to 99% of pathogens. However in most cases, sand from quarries is the best because it is pure and void of contamination. In the process of setting up the filter, the sand is carefully selected and washed with water and chlorine.

Thought this method of water purification will arrest the water crisis in most homes, the process of setting up a single filter calls for team work. Many hands are needed to fetch and wash the sand and gravel, dry it, mold and unmold the filter frame and eventually install the filter in the house when complete. This explains why the most successful hands at this initiative have come from Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Common Initiative Groups (CIGs) since they work in teams and with the assistance of trained technicians.

CAWST technical adviser Emilie Sanmartin inspecting Bio-sand filter under construction

The president of Women for Peace Buea, Mwengele Catherine who had previously received similar training in Ghana in 2010, thinks it is a worthwhile initiative that will relieve the population of water borne diseases like cholera and typhoid.

In Buea, the absence of potable water in some residential areas like Great Soppo, Molyko, Bokwango and Bunduma is a call for concern. Women, children and of recent men rise up from bed as early as 3:00 am, and trek for long distances to take the cue to fetch potable water in public taps. This in no way suggests that the taps in their homes run dry. A water carrying time table has been instituted which permits various quarters to have water on specific days of the week or specific hours of the day. Failure to carry and store water in huge quantities leaves most households running around with containers in search of water.

The company charged with the supply of potable water in Buea is La Camerounaise Des Eaux (CDE). Authorities of this company think this method of rationing between quarters the ultimate solution for the water scarcity for the time being. Its regional manager Mr. Tengwo Stephen says CDE gets water from two main sources, treats the water and distributes to the population. The situation is so precarious that even in the rainy season when much water is treated, the demand still cannot be met. He thinks the town needs more water sources to deal with the problem.

Buea is currently occupied by about two hundred thousand inhabitants. The town has witnessed population explosion with the inception of the University of Buea in 1993 and other institutions of higher learning that have sprung up. This tremendous increase in population has not met with corresponding measures to address issues like water supply, sanitation and drainage. The large population still depends on the water scheme designed to meet the needs of a smaller population 20 years ago. For now, households, schools and health facilities shoulder the responsibility of providing potable water to their members.

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