2011 Winner: Societal Impact Award
Humanitarian Engineer Helps World’s Poor Access Clean Water
According to the United Nations more than one billion people worldwide do not have access to enough safe water for drinking, food preparation, hygiene and sanitation.
Dr. David Manz developed a solution for this grave issue while he was environmental engineering professor at the University of Calgary. He invented the BioSand Water Filter technology, a lifesaving slow sand filtration system to effectively and affordably treat available water supplies for human use at the household level. The idea evolved during 1988 and 1989 when Dr. Manz, who was interested in water and international development, was conducting assessment of safe water needs in South Africa and the Philippines.
The worldwide success and sustainability of the BioSand Water Filter is a direct result of its effectiveness, low capital and operating cost, ability to be constructed locally, ease of use and cultural acceptance.
“I wanted to find a solution to the issues I saw,” he explains. “I was training engineers, so it seemed like a good project for us.” The new technology was based on traditional slow sand filtration and accepted engineering and water treatment practices with changes for use in households of the disadvantaged in developing countries.
Initial testing at the University of Calgary, Environment Canada, National Water Research Institute and field projects in Chile and Nicaragua in the early 1990s demonstrated the potential of the technology. The demonstration project in Nicaragua was the only cholera-free area of the country.
Now VP Marketing and Product Development at Oasis Filter International Ltd., Dr. Manz explains that although he received funding to develop the technology, interest and money dried up. But then, spontaneously, the system became widely adopted in many regions in the developing world.
“The worldwide success and sustainability of the BioSand Water Filter is a direct result of its effectiveness, low capital and operating cost, ability to be constructed locally, ease of use and cultural acceptance,” Dr. Manz says. “It is difficult to assess, but it is probable that today up to five million people are being served by the BioSand Water Filters technology and hundreds of units are being constructed each day.”
It has proven effective in removing waterborne pathogens and other disease-causing organisms, and has reduced diarrhoeal diseases in communities in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Ghana and Cambodia by 40 to 50 per cent. The BioSand Water Filter has gained positive international recognition from major multi-lateral organizations such as the World Health Organization and has become an invaluable tool for international relief agencies providing improved water quality in developing countries.
Supporting the Project
Several self-sustaining micro enterprises have evolved to supply the system to consumers who are able to afford it themselves. The apparent and growing success has stimulated funding to numerous organizations that manage BioSand Water Filter projects.
The BioSand Water Filter design has been refined and manuals and support documentation for the transfer of the technology are widely available. Dr. Manz has patented the BioSand Water Filter system to protect the integrity of the design and allow continued cost-free dissemination of the concrete version of the technology for humanitarian means. He left his job at the university and is now totally dedicated to encouraging his invention’s widespread use and spends part of every day supporting the humanitarian use of the BioSand Water Filter.
“I want this system to keep spreading until we don’t have this clean water issue anymore,” Dr. Manz says simply.