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A Creative Solution to Madagascar’s Water Problems

21 October 2015

A Creative Solution to Madagascar’s Water Problems

Medair’s team in Madagascar installs a system to remove excess iron from the water at a water point. 

In the rainforests of northeast Madagascar, many people get sick because of the poor quality of their drinking water. There are hundreds of small villages here that can only be reached by boat or on foot, and almost all of them need a safe supply of drinking water. 

Medair has been travelling to dozens of these villages and providing them with drilled wells and hand pumps. And it’s making quite the difference.

“Since we’ve been using the pump, I have seen no cases of diarrhea in our neighbourhood,” said Louisette, mother of three. “We used to have to send children to the health post every week!” 

Simple solutions are hard to come by for such large problems as a lack of safe drinking water. In fact, there are rarely ever “quick fixes” when one’s work is changing lives. Instead, it requires a long process of getting to know the community, their needs and desires, and then finding the most suitable solutions to meet them. 

Finding solutions to challenging problems is just part of the job for Medair relief workers, especially when you work in hard-to-reach areas. That’s why we were encouraged by the recent work of our team in Madagascar. Because when they discovered that one of the communities wasn’t drinking the safe water from the new well provided because of the high iron levels in the water, they immediately started thinking of solutions.   

Even though water with high levels of iron in it is still perfectly safe to drink, the sight, smell, and taste of it can be unpleasant. As a result, families continued to use their old, unsafe water even though it made them sick.

“Sometimes the water was so full of iron that it created a thick orange-red layer floating on the water surface that was unappealing,” said Nadège, Medair’s Water Infrastructure Manager in Madagascar. “Not only is the taste and smell of iron very strong, but the water also stains clothes orange.”

Nadège and the team were convinced there was a better way.

After reviewing various techniques available, she and her team decided to build an iron removal system right into the water point. This new system exposes the iron-filled water to oxygen in the air on its way to the tap. “Oxygen turns the iron in water into a solid that can be filtered out before it ever reaches the tap,” explains Nadège.

While this system continues to be tested, to everyone’s delight, it solved the problem! In Ankofa, the water now flows clean and clear. It has lost its foul colour, smell, and taste, and people are drinking from the safe source again. “All the villagers are thrilled with the water now,” says Nadège.

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