HA NOI — Nearly two years ago, Nguyen Thi Hoe and her family in southern Dong Thap Province were drinking water which put them at considerable risk from waterborne diseases.
Since Hoe and her family learned to use the sun’s heat to treat water their health has gradually improved.
Hoe, who lives in Thap Muoi District, is among thousands from the provinces of Binh Thuan, Dong Thap, Tay Ninh and Long An to benefit from a project known as solar water micro-organism disinfection.
The process involves placing bottles of water in the sun during the day’s hottest six hours to kill bacteria and viruses.
The process works when solar radiation travels through transparent plastic bottles to deactivate and destroy pathogenic micro-organisms, said Nguyen Thanh Luan, deputy director of the National Centre for Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation.
"The process was tested and approved by the Ministry of Health for public use as an alternative to boiling water," he said. "The use of polyethylene terephthalate bottles is suitable as tests show they don’t harm people’s health when directly exposed to the sun."
It was also extensively field tested in developing countries.
The five-year project, which started in 2004, was promoted by Helvetas, the Swiss Association for International Co-operation and the National Centre. It aimed to reduce water-related diseases in rural areas where few residents have access to piped water. It has reached more than 30,000 households and 16,000 school pupils in the provinces.
"The method is simple and easy for poor people," Hoe said. "My girl, who is seven years old, knows how to use it at home and school to produce safe water for drinking. Drinking raw water is no longer our way."
Informing people of the process was particularly targeted at the central-south coastal region and the Mekong Delta because many residents are likely to be dependant for many years on canals, rivers and rain for drinking and cooking water.
Using the process is expected to help avoid drinking raw water, Luan said.
It was also aimed at improving household and personal hygiene practices through the increased awareness of using hygienic latrines and encouraging habits that help protect water sources and their relationship to clean water and improved health, he said.
Dinh Cong Hai, official from the health education and communications centre of Tay Ninh Province, said nearly 5,000 households in Tien Thuan and Long Thuan Communes had joined the project.
"When it was introduced, many people ignored it and said their ancestors got used to using raw water and there was no need to spend time exposing the water to the sun," he said.
"We also met difficulties in getting residents to change their habit of drinking untreated water, particularly during rainy seasons when there isn’t so much sun," he said.
Through training and activities aimed at educating residents about the process, many gradually changed their habits and become familiar with it, Hai said.
Since the project started, the numbers of households drinking raw water in the targeted areas have dropped from about 52 to 19 per cent. Many not using bottles now boil drinking water.
"The project has helped prevent diseases relating to digestion disorders. In Long Thuan Commune, cases dropped from 116 in 2007 to 48 last year, 12 months after the project was implemented," he said.
During the four-province trial, the project highlighted many advantages, Luan said. "It is easy, from the old to children, to use and costs little. A first grade student can clearly explain the method, from cleaning bottles and the best position under the sun to the number of hours needed to be effective," he said.
It is environmentally-friendly and as it uses the sun the environment benefits when fuels aren’t used to boil water.
The simple and low-cost process is used in more than 20 countries. The WHO has recommended it as a simple and economically-effective way to treat household water.