By Mark Kawalya
Spouts of water is a locally-based firm that offers a water filtration service by selling ceramic-based water purification filters to everyday Ugandans. In 2010, its founder, Kathy Ku, was working as a teacher in an all-girl’s school while living with a host family in Eastern Uganda. Access to clean drinking water was a major issue the household faced, which led to them suffering from bouts of water-borne diseases.
10,000 people die every year in Uganda due to drinking contaminated water. Diarrhea-related complications are the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five.
“Since I have an engineering background and with the abundance of clay in the area, I knew, with a little ingenuity, it would not be too complicated to make ceramic filters, which would be an excellent workaround in this situation.” says Kathy.
The process involves grinding a mixture of clay and sawdust into fine particles before water is added to create a thick paste that is pressed by hand before being formed in a mold. The clay vessel is baked in a kiln at 900 degrees, combusting the sawdust that leaves behind microscopic holes. It is through these tiny crevices that clean water is filtered, leaving any particles which are too large to pass through.
With her prototype completed, Kathy reached out to various local organizations to get financial support so that she could scale up the venture, but they all turned her down. She partnered with fellow Harvard student John Kye and they created the startup in 2012 with the little savings they had. Currently, the firm makes 2,300 filters each month, which are called Purifaaya. Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment has tested the Purifaaya filter and determined that it is 99.9% effective in making water safe for consumption.
The firm currently makes three types of Purifaaya filters, with the base model (Purifaaya Regular) costing UGX90,000, the mid-tier model (Viva Purifayaa) going for UGX150,000, and the flagship filter (Purifayaa XL) costing UGX300,000.
The firm’s filters go a long way in enabling Ugandan families to save money they would otherwise spend on buying charcoal to boil drinking water. Because no energy is expended in filtering the water, the filters cut down on the carbon footprint of charcoal stoves in Kampala while also conserving trees that are cut down to make charcoal.
About 22 million people in Uganda currently do not have ready access to clean water, forcing families to spend badly-needed resources and time boiling water to make it potable.