Articles | Volume 9, issue 2
Research article
11 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 11 Oct 2016

Do low-cost ceramic water filters improve water security in rural South Africa?

Jens Lange, Tineke Materne, and Jörg Grüner

Abstract. This study examined the performance of a low-cost ceramic candle filter system (CCFS) for point of use (POU) drinking water treatment in the village of Hobeni, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. CCFSs were distributed in Hobeni and a survey was carried out among their users. The performance of 51 CCFSs was evaluated by dip slides and related to human factors. Already after two-thirds of their specified lifetime, none of the distributed CCFSs produced water without distinct contamination, and more than one-third even deteriorated in hygienic water quality. Besides the water source (springs were preferable compared to river or rain water), a high water throughput was the dominant reason for poor CCFS performance. A stepwise laboratory test documented the negative effects of repeated loading and ambient field temperatures. These findings suggest that not every CCFS type per se guarantees improved drinking water security and that the efficiency of low-cost systems should continuously be monitored. For this purpose, dip slides were found to be a cost-efficient alternative to standard laboratory tests. They consistently underestimated microbial counts but can be used by laypersons and hence by the users themselves to assess critical contamination of their filter systems.

Short summary
Here we investigate the suitability of a specific low-cost water filter for drinking water treatment in households of rural South Africa. Distributed in the field, none of 51 individually tested water filters produced water without distinct contamination, and more than one-third even deteriorated hygienic water quality. We therefore recommend frequent monitoring of the filter performance at the point of use and identify dip slides as an efficient tool to assess critical contamination.