A Small Plastic Washer Prevents Clean Water

To say the least clean drinkable water is a difficult commodity to acquire. The rains have started (at lower than expected levels but have still arrived), and with it our lack of a formal sewage or sanitation system can sometimes mean that drinking water is contaminated with a whole host of nastiness that no one needs to think too hard about. The result of the toxic mixing leads to what I like to call Bamako Belly and can result in more serious illnesses for locals who might not be accessing water from taps inside their houses.

To fix the problem we have a water filter in our house. It’s a simple two tiered system that uses charcoal canisters to clean the water. It was a sizable investment (about 50,000 CFA or $90-$100) for my nonprofit salary and I know for a fact that the cost of the system is the same price as a cleaning woman’s monthly salary. So for the local population this system is unattainable.

Recently though, we had a small malfunction with our water system. A small plastic wing nut that holds the canister in place cracked. I learned though that you can’t buy the wing nuts. The company that makes the filter designed the ridges at a width that is not carried by hardware stores. You have to buy a replacement canister for about $12. That’s not that bad of a price but only one store in Bamako carries them and they only receive shipments every so often. And so our $100 system sits on our counter unusable. Which isn’t a big deal because we can buy boxes of water and make other arrangements. But if you spent your whole month’s salary buying this system and then you couldn’t fix it you would be screwed.

And so a simple bolt prevents people’s basic right to clean water. Crazy isn’t it?

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