Humanitarian innovation tested in the field: the example of the Orisa water purifier

Photo taken in Djibo by Sebastien Batangouna Banzouzi, WASH site manager at SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL in Burkina FASO @SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL

Humanitarian action is made up of commitment and concrete responses, without which it is only words. In order to provide these responses in an efficient manner, and to meet the needs of the people being helped, innovative technical solutions play a decisive role, multiplying the time saved, the number of people assisted, and the impact of the aid. This notion of innovation is present in all areas of our work (food security, health, shelter, resilience, etc.), and of course in the technical area of WASH (water, hygiene and sanitation).

The paradigm shift sometimes consists, without revolutionizing the technical solution itself, in providing actors and beneficiaries in the field with an easy-to-use, reliable response adapted to the entire spectrum of interventions, from emergency to development, in terms of individual, family or collective access to safe drinking water. This is the idea behind the Orisa water purifier proposed by Fonto De Vivo, a company co-founded by Anthony Cailleau, a specialist in R&D, and David Monnier, a former humanitarian who has worked for 14 years in a variety of difficult areas: Liberia, Iraq, Comoros, Guinea, Afghanistan… He was able to measure the need for easy and safe means of access to water for populations impacted by security, climate or epidemic crises. The development of the Orisa purifier was done, starting in 2017, in partnership with researchers from the universities of Nantes (where Anthony Cailleau and David Monnier met, and decided to found Fonto De Vivo) and Vendée. A focus group of six French NGOs was set up to specify their needs in terms of purification and related logistics. Then a design firm in Nantes and a design office in Vendée specialized in plastics finalized the product, which started to be marketed in 2021.

In concrete terms, it is a portable and autonomous purifier, modest in size (42.5 x 17 x 12cm), weighing 2.1 kg, operating by manual pumping, intuitive, and conforming to the quality guidelines for drinking water of the WHO. The ultrafiltration is done by hollow fiber membranes through which the water passes. The purifier is adaptable to different types of containers, tanks, and treats surface water (wells, streams…).

The test bed for a tool intended for humanitarian use is its implementation in the field. In this respect, the intervention carried out by the NGO SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL in Djibo, Burkina-Faso (emergency program), is significant, as for the potential of the Orisa purifier. The particular context of the town of Djibo, which is under blockade by armed groups, has transformed a critical situation into a humanitarian emergency. Even before the blockade, Djibo was affected by the increasing scarcity of water resources due to climate change, and was home to a large number of displaced persons in the Sahel. As of March 31, 2002, according to the Burkinabe government agency that registers internally displaced persons, there were 283,428 displaced persons in Djibo, out of a resident population of approximately 50,000. In January, armed groups forcibly displaced people from surrounding villages; according to OCHA, 36,532 people arrived in less than two months. The tension on drinking water resources was at its highest. Then the blockade was declared on February 17, laying mines on the access roads and attacking any vehicle or person attempting to enter or leave the town. Finally, armed groups sabotaged water points and water access infrastructure between February 21 and March 13: destruction of a generator in the Office National de l’Eau et de l’Assainissement network (which supplied 2/3 of the population), two of the three generators supplying the pumping stations serving the public network (reducing water production by 80%), and six of the twelve solar-powered adductions, put out of service by shooting at the storage tanks… According to estimates by the WASH cluster, at least 220. According to WASH Cluster estimates, at least 220,000 people have lost access to protected water sources as of 3/17/2022 due to these attacks. The population of Djibo, as Sébastien Batangouna, EHA SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL site manager in Burkina Faso, recounts, “was reduced to digging makeshift holes in the dry dam bed by hand, extracting insufficient quantities of murky water, or to drawing from a few wells or stagnant surface water. In addition, there have been numerous attacks on people collecting water. Access to water has become an issue of pressure on the population for armed groups.

Photo taken in Djibo by Sebastien Batangouna Banzouzi, WASH site manager at SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL in Burkina FASO @SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL

In this context, and in a city that is only connected by helicopter to the rest of the country, the traditional WASH responses, as explained by Lise Florin, WASH Coordinator at SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL in Burkina Faso, are no longer adapted: “Too dangerous to repair vandalized water points and generators, water-trucking unthinkable because water points inaccessible and fuel supply limited by the blockade, installation of bladders (flexible tanks) ruled out, because a treatment station would have been too visible and pumping difficult in makeshift holes, finally limited access to the dam for security reasons.” The only remaining solution was to treat homes and/or communities, using unconventional water sources (surface water scattered throughout the city) if necessary. A “discreet” and safe solution, therefore, which consisted in “diverting”, to use the words of Baptiste LECUYOT, Head of the EHA – Technical Expertise and Quality of Programs Unit at SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL headquarters, “the use of purifiers normally more suitable for home water treatment, by setting up collective filtration points where people would come to fetch filtered water, without having to set up larger facilities“. 242 community volunteers were recruited and trained, 64 filtration points were set up, and a mobile team of 50 volunteers was assigned to go out and educate households on hygiene and home water treatment. To date, 500 Orisa purifiers have been deployed in Djibo by SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL.

Even if the intervention of SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL in Djibo is still ongoing, we can already see that, as Sebastien Batangouna points out, “The handling, use, maintenance and repair of the Orisa purifiers has been easy, as has the training of the national staff and day laborers. This simplicity was reinforced, as Lise Florin reminds us, “by the tutorials made available on the Internet by Fonto De Vivo“. Lise Florin adds that, in addition to their discretion and simplicity, “these purifiers have proven to be faster than the chemical “PUR” treatment: between 120 L/H and 180 L/H for ORISA filters, compared to 40 L/H for PUR. Also less voluminous: 4 times less 20L buckets are needed to cover the same number of beneficiaries, transportation and storage are therefore easier and less expensive. Finally, the water is of better quality for the people rescued, because it is simply chlorinated after filtration to avoid recontamination of the water during transport/storage. In Djibo, these purifiers have been used intensively, from 4 to 6 hours a day, producing about 100 L/H each, or 4 days’ worth of water for a “normal” family. Of course, pumping requires a minimum of physical strength, but given the context and the emergency, this response proved to be the most relevant, efficient and discreet. It should be mentioned, however, that non-compliance (related to a supplier) was found in Djibo, on a number of Orisa purifiers. The problem was immediately recognized by Fonto De Vivo, which implemented solutions, as the purifiers were repairable: new parts (rings) were tested and sent to Burkina Faso by express mail; and, in addition to the stock of membranes already on site, new ones are being sent to replace those that had a problem (with the remote support of Fonto De Vivo, and knowing that these membranes must be changed anyway after a certain time of use)

SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL (which had already used the Orisa purifier in Niger in a limited way in health centers), has also deployed it in Haiti in schools, and plans to use it in Mali for emergency response. Allassane Traore, EHA Dakar coordinator, emphasizes that this tool is interesting “for interventions with transhumant populations or those affected by recurrent displacements, often forgotten by humanitarian responses and particularly at risk when it comes to access to drinking water.

@MSF, Madagascar, avril 2022

In addition to SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, other NGOs use the Orisa purifier, such as MSF in Ukraine (in health care facilities) and in Madagascar (with communities). Its very good bacterial (99.999999%, i.e. LOG 8) and viral (99.999%, i.e. LOG 5) filtration performances make it an obvious infection prevention tool, but, as Jérôme Leglise, Water and Sanitation Referent at MSF’s Operational Support Pole, points out, a specific technical innovation was of particular interest to MSF: its backwashing system using purified water, limiting contamination during washing. The medical NGO considers this purifier to be particularly suitable for exploratory missions, small bases or isolated health structures, specific communities far from urban networks, and people at risk (pregnant women, immunocompromised people, young children, measles cases) in a post-consultation or hospitalization “discharge kit”.

Finally, the CDCS (Crisis and Support Center of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs) has ordered 405 Orisa purifiers, in order to build up a contingency stock to respond to potential emergencies (natural disasters, conflicts, pandemics…).

In the end, this tool shows that, between the challenge of developing a product and the test of the field, humanitarian innovation is – also – a form of risk-taking… necessary…

Pierre Brunet

Writter and Humanitarian

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Born in 1961 in Paris to a French father and a Spanish mother, Pierre Brunet found his first vocation as a freelance journalist. In 1994, he crossed paths with humanitarian aid and volunteered in Rwanda, which had been devastated by genocide. In early 1995, he left on a humanitarian mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then torn by civil war. There he took on the responsibilities of program coordinator in Sarajevo, then head of mission.

Upon his return to France at the end of 1996, he joined the headquarters of the French NGO SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, for which he had gone on mission. He will be in charge of communication and fundraising, while returning to the field, as in Afghanistan in 2003, and starting to write… In 2011, while remaining involved in humanitarian work, he commits himself totally to writing, and devotes an essential part of his time to his vocation of writer.

Pierre Brunet is Vice-President of the association SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL. He has been in the field in the North-East of Syria, in the “jungle” of Calais in November 2015, and in Greece and Macedonia with migrants in April 2016.

Pierre Brunet’s novels are published by Calmann-Lévy:

  • January 2006: publication of his first novel “Barnum” by Calmann-Lévy, a story born from his humanitarian experience.
  • September 2008 : publication of his second novel ” JAB “, the story of a little Spanish orphan girl who grew up in Morocco and who will become a professional boxer as an adult.
  • March 2014: release of his third novel “Fenicia”, inspired by the life of his mother, a little Spanish orphan during the civil war, refugee in France, later an anarchist activist, seductress, who died in a psychiatric institute at 31 years old.
  • End of August 2017: release of his fourth novel “The Triangle of Uncertainty”, in which the author “returns” again, as in “Barnum” to Rwanda in 1994, to evoke the trauma of a French officer during Operation Turquoise.

In parallel to his work as a writer, Pierre Brunet works as a co-writer of synopses for television series or feature films, in partnership with various production companies. He also collaborates with various magazines by publishing columns or articles, particularly on international news.

Back to Dakar for the 9th World Water Forum.

Opening of the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar 2022.

Water at the heart of geopolitical issues.

If the World Water Forum did not exist, it would have to be invented! 25 years after its first edition in Marrakech, Morocco, next to the United Nations Agencies which have a relationship with water, the WWF has the particularity of gathering every 3 years at the international level, the water actors in their diversity on a multitude of subjects of which water is the common denominator.

Introducing the Forum at the Dakar Arena, the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, immediately made a strategic diagnosis: “This 9th World Water Forum gives us the opportunity to sound the alarm on the seriousness of the situation so that water-related issues remain at the heart of the international agenda. The lives and health of billions of people around the world are at stake. But also the preservation of peace and international security”.

Similarly, the President of the World Water Council, Loïc Fauchon, co-organizer of the Forum with Senegal, has set the bar very high by proposing the inclusion of the right of access to water in all constitutions. He also proposed the creation of a “Blue Fund” from climate financing “a true International Fund for Water Security”.

From March 21 to 25, more than 4,000 participants from all over the world, and particularly from Africa, were involved in a hundred or so official sessions, twenty or so high-level panels, a multitude of events on the stands of countries, companies or organizations and all along the African Village and the sanitation trail at the Diamniadio International Conference Center, located between the international airport and Dakar.

Several features of this Forum met the expectations of humanitarians for whom water is one of the major responses to the vital needs of populations, as well as food security, shelter, health and protection.

First, it was the first forum in sub-Saharan Africa, where access to water and sanitation is most lacking and where conflicts are most numerous. Secondly, because Dakar is a regional platform for all of West and Central Africa where all the major humanitarian actors are present. Secondly, the theme of the Forum on “Water Security for Peace and Development” was a good way to address the humanitarian emergency of water, sanitation and hygiene. Finally, we agreed with the Forum’s choice to focus on concrete responses and solutions.

A Forum where humanitarianism had its place.

Solidarités International’s WASH intervention in Burkina Faso

It is of course not possible to give an account of this Forum which dealt with water security, tools and financing, water for agriculture and cooperation. Let’s just say that the Senegalese have essentially successfully met a challenge despite some difficulties inherent to this type of event.

These favorable humanitarian conditions generated at least a dozen official sessions, high-level panels, and events dedicated specifically to humanitarian situations. These included water and health with Action Contre la Faim, sanitation with Secours Islamique France, collaborative platforms, financing, protection of water and water infrastructure during armed conflicts with the Geneva Water Hub (GWH), coordination of actors with the Global Wash Cluster (GWC), the Field Support Team with Jean Lapegue, and finally the Emergency-Development Nexus or Nex’Eau with Solidarités International.  We even had a live meeting from Dakar with Sébastien Truffaut, head of the Global Wash Cluster-UNICEF in Ukraine in Lviv.

Let’s take an example of a humanitarian session to illustrate what this Forum was by recalling that there were 100 similar sessions over 5 days with a wide variety of topics selected and validated throughout a consultation process that will have begun in April 2019 in Diamniadio during a kick-off meeting and which will have involved thousands of actors for its preparation.

The first of the 100 sessions (1.A.1) was entitled “Water security, from emergency to development, in crisis situations”. It was the only one where the term “crisis situation” appeared. I am detailing it here because this session says a lot about the evolution of humanitarianism as well as of this Forum.

Session 1.A.1’s participants (from left to right : Richard Bassono (GRET), Luc Soenen (ECHO), Cristal Ntchantchou (SI Burkina Faso), Martina Rame (Coordinator Cluster Wash –UNICEF- Burkina Faso), Alain Boinet (SI), Marc-André Bûnzli (Coopération Suisse – DDC-SDC), Guillaume Pierrehumbert (CICR Genève), Bram Riems (ACF), Baptiste Lecuyot (SI), Renaud Piarroux remotely (Professor of Medicine).)

This 90-minute session, which I moderated and which was prepared by Baptiste Lecuyot, head of the water-sanitation-hygiene division of Solidarités International, consisted of 4 parts. The presentation of a video on the situation of the ever-increasing number of displaced people in Burkina Faso (from 47,000 in 2018 to 1,700,000 at the time of the Forum) in which Allassane Traoré, Solidarités International’s WASH manager for the region, presents the problem of needs that are both urgent and structural. Then, Baptiste Lecuyot presented us with an overview of the current situation and the issues at stake, raising the question of how to achieve Goal 6 of the MDGs in crisis situations and the rationale for an emergency-development Nexus type of response.

The second part was divided into two parts. The first one was dedicated to the emergency response to epidemics such as cholera in crisis situations with a presentation by Professor Renaud Piarroux (La Pitie Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris), followed by Bram Riems, senior manager at ACF, for the operational response.

The other part presented a multi-actor (public-private and humanitarian-development) pilot project to support ONEA’s public water services in Burkina Faso in response to the needs of the growing number of displaced people living among the local population. Cristal Ntchantchou, from Solidarités International, and Ousmane Pitroipa, ONEA’s water manager in Burkina Faso, with the contribution of Richard Bassono from GRET, presented the organization and functioning of this 2-year project with a budget of 4 million euros, which aims to support ONEA in meeting exponential needs in a context of insecurity.

Finally, we addressed the issue of funding and coordination of actors. Luc Soenen of the European Commission’s DG ECHO in Dakar and Marc-André Bünzli of the SDC (Swiss Development Cooperation) were well placed to deal with financial engineering, as were Martina Rama, coordinator of the EAH cluster, and Guillaume Pierrehumbert, head of the ICRC’s Water and Habitat unit, for the integrated implementation of projects where the multiplicity of actors and their diversity is both an asset and a difficulty.

This session marks both an evolution of humanitarian action to better respond to the complexity of crisis situations as well as a positive opening of the Forum to present these crises that are taking place close to us, from the Sahel to Ukraine, and not on another planet.

The French Water Partnership.

Among the participants, we must salute the unfailing action of the French water partnership (FWP) whose stand welcomed some 300 French actors and their international partners with continuous quality sessions on the Agora provided for this purpose.

The President of the PFE, Jean Launay, the General Manager, Marie-Laure Vercambre, Philippe Guettier and their entire team were on the bridge from one end to the other of these long days all week long. Alongside them, the presence and involvement of the Secretary of State, Bérangère Abba, testified to the interest and involvement of the French authorities in promoting the cause of water and sanitation in view of the United Nations Conference in New York in one year.

From right to left Marie-Laure Vercambre, Jean Launay, Bérangère Abba, Gérard Payen and Patrick Lavarde.

The closing of the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar was the occasion for a “Dakar Declaration” proposing “A Blue deal for water and sanitation security for peace and development”. It is an excellent initiative and we have nothing to withdraw from what is written there.

But I don’t know if the UN language used is the most appropriate to be heard because it generally has the effect of watering down, diluting and trivializing everything at a time when, on the contrary, it is necessary to take a leap forward to save Goal 6 of the SDGs, which will not be reached in 2030 at the current rate despite the commitments made in 2015!

It is however specified in this “Dakar Declaration” that “the results of the work of this Forum should be considered as a complement to this declaration”. Let us also note that in conclusion the Forum called for the achievement of Goal 6 for universal access to water and sanitation “including in crisis situations”.

And now what do we do?

The 9th World Water Forum was, after the water dialogues organized by Germany in July 2021, one of the five preparatory milestones for the United Nations Water Conference of March 2023, co-organized by Tajikistan and the Netherlands.

The next milestones are the Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Japan, the High Level Symposium on Water during the UN Conference on the Oceans in Portugal and the High Level Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. In other words, the agenda between now and this Conference is full, but it also offers decisive opportunities to put MDG 6 back on the right track.

The roadmap is clear for water stakeholders. There is no doubt that the French Water Partnership (FWP) and the French authorities, as well as in other countries, will be strategic partners to go together to the UN in March 2023 so that the commitments made in 2015 are met. For this, it will be necessary to strengthen the necessary governance and the indispensable means that are lacking, mobilized by a collective political will.

Alain Boinet.


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