October 4, 2009
I was the Water and Sanitation Manager for the British NGO Merlin in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis for six months in 2008. Providing potable water for the cyclone survivors, who depended mostly on rainwater harvesting from roofs and in small reservoirs, was of great concern. Reservoirs had been contaminated and water storage containers lost. Assets and income to purchase water had also been lost, and coping mechanisms for water shortage had been damaged. Furthermore, even before the cyclone, water from the reservoirs, shallow wells and storage containers would have been contaminated and could not be considered safe to drink.
Ceramic water filters made by local entrepreneurs, using mainly local materials and local labor, were one of the best viable options for treating water to remove pathogens. In collaboration with UNICEF, Thirst Aid provided local entrepreneurs with the training and assistance they needed to manufacture high quality filters.
Thirst-Aid surveys showed that training the users led to more sustained use of the filters. So, Thirst-Aid trainers trained the staff of UN agencies and NGOs who buy and distribute the filters. Then, these staff train users on the importance of clean water as well as the correct use of the filters. Thirst Aid also provides free inspection of filters and can train client organizations to inspect the filters, thus ensuring a high quality product.
Thirst-Aid’s methods include the transfer of skills and knowledge that help local people to set up viable businesses that use mainly local materials and labor. Thirst-Education teaches people the importance of clean water, which will foster lasting demand for the filters. These methods should ensure the sustainability of the intervention and its effects. Not only that, the international staff are training national staff to manage operations in Myanmar so that international staff can concentrate on expanding operations to other developing countries. Thirst-Aid continues to work to refine and improve its methods.
Without Thirst-Aid, providing a sustainable source of safe water for cyclone survivors would have been much more difficult. On a tiny budget, Thirst Aid enabled several entrepreneurs to manufacture tens of thousands of ceramic water filters for cyclone survivors, while providing free training and inspection.
Thirst-Aid staff, both international and local, showed an impressive dedication to improving the health and livelihoods of the most vulnerable members of the population. Dollar for dollar, in spite of the extremely difficult context, Thirst-Aid’s intervention in Myanmar was one of the most effective, sustainable and cost-effective operations I have ever seen, in over 30 years working in water and sanitation in relief and development in developing countries.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
supplying water filters that people can use at home to purify water. They trained my staff to train users to correctly use and maintain the filters and in the importance of consuming clean, safe water for themselves and their children.
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
help them expand their operations. It is a very small NGO with some very good ideas and approaches. They deserve an opportunity to continue and to expand so they can help more people.
What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...
their dedication and openness and willingness to keep working to improve the effectiveness of their operations. They were always helpful and willing.
The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...
fantastic - extremely and sincerely dedicated, hardworking and sincere. I wish more of my staff had been like them!
If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...
start working in other areas of Myanmar and in other countries, setting up country offices to support the set-up of more entrepreneurs to manufacture more water filters and improve the health of more people.
Ways to make it better...
their operations had been more advanced. The demand for water filters far outstripped the capacity of the manufacturers to supply them.
In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...
the difficulties of expansion: it's a very small organization with a small staff and will have difficulty raising money among all the competing organizations with long records.
One thing I'd also say is that...
I imagine all this sounds like an advertisement, but these folks made a believer out of this rather skeptical old relief worker. What they managed to do on a miniscule budget was just amazing. The most vulnerable of the world will benefit from them.
How frequently have you been involved with the organization?
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?
Client Served & I managed the purchase of ceramic water filters from entrepreneurs that Thirst-Aid had assisted in setting up to manufacture and sell ceramic water filters. Their staff trained my staff to train users and to inspect filters.