Purdue Water Community

Update on research in Tanzania

March 26, 2013

Dear Purdue Water Community,

I'm now halfway through my stay here in northern Tanzania where I'm conducting research for my master's thesis. I have learned numerous things already, related both to my thesis topic and in understanding how research can be carried out in developing countries as well as about the Tanzanian culture and way of living. I would like to thank the Water Community for the travel support. Below follows a progress report of my work thus far.

I'm here as a research associate for the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST). The institute is an initiative of Nelson Mandela to promote development in science, engineering and technology on the African continent. There are several such research centers spread throughout Africa with Arusha, Tanzania being the node for East Africa. Purdue University signed a Memoranda of Understanding with NM-AIST in 2012. I'm impressed with the goals and ambitions of the Institute along with its quality of researchers, staff and programs.
Another of Purdue's partners that I've worked alongside with for my research is Oikos East Africa which is a branch of Isituto Oikos, based in Italy. The non-governmental organization focuses mainly on environmental conservation through community-based projects targeted on education, water accessibility and food security.

One of the biggest challenges regarding water in the northern areas of Tanzania is high fluoride levels in drinking water. The World Health Organizations standard of fluoride content for drinking water is 1,5 mg/l while fluoride concentrations in waters in Tanzania have been found to be up to 68 mg/l (WHO, 2006; Ghiglieri et al, 2009). One of the ways to reduce the amount of fluoride is filtering it through bone char. Several years ago Oikos East Africa introduced bone char filters in rural villages with exceptionally high amounts of fluoride. My study aims at evaluating the implementation of such filters in order to determine if the filters can be labeled as an appropriate technology in the context of rural communities.
So far I've been able to conduct more than 40 interviews. I've talked to the NGO which has implemented the project to hear about their goals and perspectives of the project. I've discussed the initiative with local governments and water committees in two sub villages to get an understanding of the leadership and stakeholders' roles and responsibilities in the area. Adopters are another group I've gotten the opportunity to hear their perspective from. To understand reasons behind choosing not to adopt the filters, I've also spoken to household who are non-adopters. Themes that I've investigated include social acceptability, gender consideration, stakeholder involvement and the willingness to pay for the filters. Each interview is concluded with a ranking in which the respondents get to describe what they identify as most important criteria of an appropriate technology. It is very interesting to hear the opinions and ideas of the interviewees, as well as compare the answers between different levels of society.

In order to determine the effectiveness of the filter, I will also carry out several experiments. Water samples will be collected at the source and at peoples' homes to determine the level of fluoride as well as pH and alkalinity. I also want to test the capacity of fluoride adsorption of the bone char as well as its exhaustion rate. This will be carried out through batch and column experiments. I've been able to visit the production site of the filter and bought some bone char from different batches which I intend to investigate.

Katrin Eitrem Holmgren
Master's thesis in Tanzania

There are currently only a few households that have continued to use the bone char filters. The main reason for the decreased usage seems to be due to maintenance and inaccessibility in acquiring new bone char which gets exhausted after a couple of months. Reasons for not adopting the technology include not having knowledge about the project, not seeing the benefits of using the filters as well as not having the means to pay.
In the upcoming weeks I will finish the interviews as well as carry out the experiments. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to stay in the country for such a long time as it provides an understanding of daily life in rural communities in general and of the views of bone char filters in particular.
I once again thank the Water Community for the travel support which enables me to carry out my research.


Katrin Eitrem Holmgren

References Ghiglieri, G.; Balia, R.; Oggiano, G.; Pittalis, D. 2009. ‘Prospecting for safe (low fluoride) groundwater in the Eastern African Rift: the Arumeru District (Northern Tanzania)’ Hydrology and Earth System Sciences14, 1081-1091, 2010
World Health Organization (WHO), 2006. ‘Fluoride in drinking water’ TJ International (Ltd), Padstow, Cornwall, UK.

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