Saha Global: Empowering Women to Deliver Clean Water

June 3, 2022

Helping women learn to treat and sell clean, affordable water to their community

About the author:

Carol Brzozowski is a freelance writer for Water Quality Products. Brzozowski can be reached at [email protected].

In Ghana’s Northern Region, families obtain water by taking buckets to the local water source and back home. That water source, however, has been contaminated with human and animal waste.

In 2008, Kate Cincotta founded the non-profit Saha Global, for which she is now executive director and helps women learn to treat and sell clean, affordable water to their community.

To date, Saha Global has trained 847 women entrepreneurs who run 301 clean water businesses serving approximately 150,000 people. It costs Saha Global $13 to bring clean water to one person over a 10-year time frame, including start-up and ongoing customer care costs.

Cincotta developed an interest in international development at the University of Virginia, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering and engineering business.

“What really interested me about the global water crisis but also made me sad was that treatment technology already exists. We know how to solve this problem,” says Cincotta.

“There are many different ways to treat water and methods that have been developed to be used in rural areas. You can make a ceramic water filter using local materials. Chlorine is available most places where people need it. You could use UV. Yet millions of children are dying every year from preventable waterborne disease.”

Cincotta concluded water distribution was the problem – getting water to people who need it in a way that can be doable in the long run until pipelines are able to be expanded to everybody’s home.

While at MIT earning a Master of Science degree in technology and policy program, Cincotta’s research advisor was working in Ghana’s Northern and Savannah Regions where accessing groundwater sources proved difficult.

Shallow aquifers are often depleted faster than they refill, resulting in well drilling and pump installation efforts halting.

Year-round surface water sources are available, but highly contaminated.

“Low-tech, simple water treatment technologies developed for the rural areas I was interested in work well in a place like this where bringing in new groundwater supply isn’t a great option,” says Cincotta.

Saha Global partners with small and remote rural villages whose average population of  400 lives near contaminated water sources.

The organization donates equipment to set up what Cincotta calls a ‘deconstructed water treatment facility’ consisting of one 1,400-liter tank and three 200-liter settling tanks set up near the water source.

“We train two to three women from the community to treat the water source in the settling tanks with alum, which is a flocculent they can buy in a local market to remove the turbidity. Then they scoop the water from there into the bigger poly tank where it’s treated with chlorine,” Cincotta says.

The women then sell the clean water to families in the community, each of which is given a 20-liter safe storage container with a lid and tap for home storage.

Saha Global purposely buys technology from local distributors of products manufactured in Ghana and China, says Cincotta.

“We want to keep that supply chain strong so it will continue to be there and make sure we’re building an economic model for each business around prices our individual entrepreneurs would be able to get if they needed to replace something on their own,” she adds.

Saha Global works with the community to decide the price of water that covers treatment costs and pays the women entrepreneurs for their time.

It takes about three weeks from the initial meeting with the village chief and elders through the business’ opening day, after which the women cover all operating expenses from water sales revenue.

Saha Global provides 10 years of customer care, conducting monthly water quality testing and ongoing mentoring with the women as well as gathering data for its own monitoring and evaluation.

Saha Global taps women as the entrepreneurs because “in rural Ghana and in a lot of areas of the world, women are in charge of water,” Cincotta notes. “Most of the women we partner with started collecting water with their mothers – some as young as age four – walking with them to the water source and walking home.

“Women have a sense for how much they would need to treat it, how often people are going to come by. Most women we work with have used the products before – just not at the scale needed to treat the whole community.”

The communities have been supportive. While making money empowers the women entrepreneurs to provide more for their families, Cincotta sees another benefit in their being a community’s water expert.

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Cincotta initially lived in Ghana full time while working out treatment model details as well as how to engage with the communities.

She now focuses on long-term strategy and fundraising while a staff of more than 50 Ghanaians have assumed the responsibilities of launching new businesses supporting existing communities.

Cincotta — who was visiting Ghana once each quarter — returned in March after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID pandemic.

Cincotta says she’s spoken with other engineers and people in water technology who are excited about the potential to pump water to make the process easier.

She points out a drive down a rural road in Ghana reveals one failed water project after another as people have come in and tried to ‘overcomplicate’ the issue.

“The ultimate goal should always be that everyone has piped clean water to their home,” she says. “That’s the best way to have a long-term health impact. Until you’re able to expand the infrastructure that way, there’s a lot that can be done with some really simple technology. By keeping it simple, it can allow something to be pretty durable and allows us to keep the price low.”

Saha Global estimates there are approximately 800,000 people in Ghana’s Northern Region without access to clean water and is scouting to figure out how many live in rural villages.

The organization seeks to reach everyone by the end of 2025. Future plans call for reaching more people at a bigger scale, perhaps involving a government partnership, says Cincotta.

About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

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