Sari cloth becomes a simple filtration system

Photo via Peter Rivera

Sometimes the most simple elements of daily life are better than the high tech solutions for staying healthy. The results of a 5-year study have shown that when women in India use their sari cloths to filter drinking water for their families, they reduce the chances of a family member becoming ill with cholera. What's more, the action can even prevent neighboring families who don't filter their water this way from getting sick.

In 2003, Rita Colwell of the University of Maryland, College Park, and a team of researchers showed that by teaching women in Matlab, Bangladesh to use their sari cloths to filter water before using it for drinking, cooking or bathing, the incidence of cholera village-wide was reduced by 48%. Now, a follow-up study shows that 31% of the women still filter their water, with 60% using their sari cloths. During this follow-up period, hospitalizations for cholera were down by 25%.

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The simple action costs villagers nothing, and provides a direct benefit to the households - and even an indirect benefit for neighboring households who experienced a drop in cholera incidences simply by their neighbors filtering water.

The American Society for Microbiology published the findings, where Colwell notes,

A Bright Spot for Simple Solutions

While not world-changing in itself, the findings of this study to underscore a point made in the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. The book discusses how often solutions don't look like what we expect them to be - it often takes people willing to look at the habits of a culture, find what's working, or the "bright spots" and replicate that behavior. Here, sari cloths provide an already-existing water filtration system that results in sustained habits that help keep the entire village healthier.

So while it isn't some new gadget, high tech water filtration membrane, or specialized chemistry, this study is still encouraging as a cost-effective way to get clean, safe water to more people who need it. Considering more people in India have access to cell phones than they do to basic sanitation, having easily accessible solutions like filtering water with saris is actually very exciting news.

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