Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.
Yesterday marked the day when I stopped ordering purified water from across the street. It also marked the day I stopped paying for water bottles, the accumulation of algae, and a very unaesthetically pleasing plastic tower in our kitchen. Yesterday, an Ecofiltro arrived to our house.
Prior to my time in Guatemala, I’ve heard of many water filters designed for use in developing countries (please see article about designing water filters in Cambodia and Vietnam), but had never actually used them in my day-to-day life. Now, living in Guatemala, there’s a company that permeates gringo (Guatemalan lingo for foreigners) and Guatemalan homes alike throughout the country. Started in 1981, Ecofiltro began with the mission to provide clean water at a low cost to all Guatemalans. Ecofiltro uses the money from their water filter business to provide water filters to families who don’t have access to clean water–which in Guatemala is a very real need.
A recent estimate says that while 98 percent of urban Guatemalans have access, only 80 percent of rural Guatemalans have access to improved drinking-water sources (Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, 2010). While these numbers might not seem very alarming, the definition of improved-drinking water sources according to the World Health Organization is “… technology and levels of services that are more likely to provide safe water than unimproved technologies. Improved water sources include household connections, public standpipes, boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, and rainwater collections.” Thus, it’s simply an indicator of the likelihood of having clean water with respect to what types of water collection systems people are using. In reality, a borehole or an indoor tap does not guarantee safe water. For example, I have two taps in my house, but the water is not safe to drink.
While Ecofiltro’s mission is to provide water filters for all, the reality is that the filters cost a handsome $56–which is more than many Guatemalans make per week. The replacement filter, which you’re supposed to renew every year, costs $27. For me, this is certainly cheaper than buying purified water every other week–but for Guatemalan’s who don’t have extra resources, it’s simply not accessible. According to their website, Ecofiltro has handed out over 60,000 filters in the last three years to families in need. I like the idea that I’m subsidizing the cost for a family that doesn’t have access to clean water, and love that there’s no longer a plastic tower in our kitchen.