Water filtration is no doubt important; clean water is a basic necessity of human life used for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Many diseases are directly caused by unclean water. One such disease is cholera, which researchers have estimated is responsible for up to 142,000 deaths every year.

However, an unexpected water filtration technique has been shown to reduce the incidence of cholera in parts of Bangladesh by up to 48%. Also, the technique does not require expensive technology or devices, but actually uses an already available and widely popular material.

Saris are the traditional garments that are worn by many females in much of South-East Asia, including India. The sari cloth, when folded several times, acts as a filtration system that catches impurities and bacilli, making even water collected from streams or canals safe to consume.

The technique was introduced in several Indian villages by researchers from the University of Maryland in 2003. They noticed that many women in Indian villages would filter water in their homes with a thin, single layer of cloth. While this would strain out larger, visible particles, the material’s pores were not thick enough to remove unseen particles or plankton.

Five years after the initial study, researchers returned to investigate how effective the method was and if people were still using it. What they found was fairly surprising. Out of the more than 7,000 village women from the original trail, only 31% of them continued to filter their water in some way. Of this 31%, 60% used the sari method.

Considering the low percentage of villagers who continued to use the practice, the reduction of cholera incidences by 25% was still impressive. However, they could have been higher if more people chose to filter their drinking water.

Furthermore, the researchers found that 25% of neighboring households that did not receive the filtering instruction during the first study had begun using it, demonstrating that community members shared the knowledge they received and trickled down the benefits of this simple, yet effective technique.

While the sari filtration method is not perfect, it does make water considerably safer for consumption rather than leaving it entirely unfiltered. With this cost effective, reasonably successful solution known and available, it seems that the final obstacle is spreading, encouraging and maintaining the practice within communities.

Brittney Dimond

Sources: The Hummingbird Project, mBio, NY Times, WHO
Photo: Wikimedia