Clean Water


Waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death globally for children under the age of five, and half the patients in the world’s hospitals are suffering from diseases related to unsafe water.

Disease Impact

  • Dirty water kills more people than all forms of violence including war.
  • Diarrhea kills more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined and remains in the second leading cause of death among children under five globally.
  • Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. 100,000–120,000 deaths are due to cholera every year*
  • Diarrhea results in one in five child deaths – about 1.5 million each year is due to diarrhea.
  • *World Health Organization Fact Sheet July 2012

Collecting Water

  • A 20-liter jerry can is a common item millions of people in the developing world use to collect, transport, and store their water.
  • A full 20-liter jerry can of water weighs 44 pounds.
  • Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources.

Water Usage

  • 20 liters/day from a source within 1 kilometer of the household is deemed sufficient, as the minimum requirement per person per day for adequate drinking and personal hygiene.
  • If you include bathing and laundry needs, the threshold would be about 50 liters/day.
  • People in Rwanda average just 5 liters a day compared to the United States at 575 liters per day—roughly 29 jerry cans.

After one year of having a filter, families report greatly improved health and fewer visits to the health clinic.


Our current focus is in Rwanda. Sub-Saharan Africa is ranked as one of the world’s most underserved areas for access to clean water.

Rwanda, Africa

1°56.633′S 30°3.567′E

Rwanda is a poor, rural country located in south-central Africa. With 80% of its population struggling to make it by with mainly subsistence agriculture, the 1994 genocide decimated their already fragile economic base. Today, though making strides to regain their economic stability, the population below the poverty line remains at nearly 45%. Specifically, we work along the Nyabarongo River, serving 5 rural districts that use the river and adjacent swamps as their main water source.

Gahanga Masaka Ntarama Mwogo Juru
Mwogo, Rwanda

Since June of 2015, Mwogo has already received 1,034 SAM3 filters, 2 SAM2 filters and 9 Rainwater harvest systems. Many people here still suffer from waterborne diseases and to make matters worse, there is only one health clinic in this district to treat people. Like other districts, subsistence farming is how men and women feed themselves and their families. But the good news is already coming in. Families who’ve had their filter for a few months are saying they no longer suffer worms and their children are missing less days of school due to illness! Population: 18,000.

Gahanga, Rwanda

Today, 17,280 people have access to clean water in Gahanga thanks to 2,400 SAM3 filters, six SAM2 filters, and 11 rainwater harvest systems. But the numbers don’t begin to explain the difference these clean water solutions have made in the lives of those in Gahanga—people like Hadja or the 58 children at the Gahanga Center For Vulnerable Children.

Juru, Rwanda

Juru (Jooroo) borders Mwogo, and we’ll be moving into this area in early March 2016. The water is muddier and just as contaminated. We’ve already been meeting with local leaders to identify our recipients. We will bring 1,600 SAM3’s, 13 Rainwater Harvest Systems and 11 SAM2’s to Juru by December 2016. Population: 20,233

Masaka, Rwanda

This district was selected as the initial place to begin our work in 2008 with World Relief Rwanda after a cholera outbreak killed nearly 500 people in 2006. An underdeveloped rural area also hit hard by the genocide, over half of Masaka’s 35,000 residents are 18 and under—with 6% of children having no surviving parent and 22% having one deceased parent. In 2013, we completed our goals in Masaka, having installed 1,180 slow-sand filters and 15 Rainwater Harvest Systems. Ongoing visits to filter recipients attests that families are healthier and staying that way due to the filters. Our certified volunteers from Masaka still help train new volunteers in neighboring districts. Learn more about our approach.

Ntarama, Rwanda

In early 2014, we entered our third district—Ntarama (pronounced Na-ra’-ma), an area inhabited by 11,581 people. Ntarama isn’t just hard to pronounce. It also epitomizes an extremely hard life on all fronts. The genocide was horrendous in and of itself—yet this small district was especially impacted by a disproportionate death toll—around 5,000 people. Add to the mental trauma is the dirty, nasty Nyabarongo serving as the primary water source by a highly vulnerable community that can’t afford to boil water. In Ntarama, we distributed SAM3 filters to 1,534 families (7,670 individuals). But that’s not all, we also provided 9 Rainwater Harvest Systems and 6 SAM2 filters (for a grand total of 11,270 people).


For us, it goes well beyond installation and set-up. Here’s what else we’re doing to make it sustainable and empower the communities we work in.

Faustine’s Story

Faustine’s Story

Our Approach

Always Following Up

Following a filter’s installation, our Monitoring Team follows up with each beneficiary at least 4 times within the first 2 years to ensure that they are using their filter correctly and consistently, and that each filter and rainwater harvesting system is working properly. We also do water quality tests ... Read More where we check the water going into and out of the filters to make sure that the filters are not only removing things like worms, amoebas, and parasites, but also Coliform and E.coli.

Working Together

We believe that when organizations come together, they can accomplish much more than they ever would on their own. So we partner with organizations, such as Aqua Clara International and other engineers to continually push clean water technology forward. Our long-term partnership with World Relief Rwanda ... Read More has also been a key component to our growth. Their church networks have enabled us to effectively reach those most in need and we partner directly with their programs that address Health and Hygiene, HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care, and Economic Development as a way to further educate and care for filter recipients.

Keeping It Local

The hope for a better Rwanda is the people of Rwanda. That’s why we started our work by listening to local leaders share the problems they face, and have continued working with them ever since. Our goal is to equip people from Rwandan communities facing clean water issues to be the solution to the very issues that surround them.

Taking A Simple, Cost-Effective Approach

Access to clean water shouldn’t be reserved for only those who can afford it. So we are constantly working on ways to maintain and increase effectiveness while reducing cost. Because lower cost solutions mean more people have access to clean water. People that can’t wait for large infrastructure to be put in place. ... Read More People that are dying every 20 seconds while waiting for the answer. So what’s our answer? Simple solutions like household filters, school and clinic filters and rainwater harvesting systems that put the power of making dirty water clean in the hands of people and communities we come alongside.

Our Solutions

SAM2 Filter

SAM2’s are large-capacity sand-and-membrane filters, providing clean water to 400 people a day. For health clinics, this means people can take their medicine with clean water and bring a full container home with them.
Being able to get clean water in the classroom means children don't have to miss school to fetch water. They can simply bring it home with them.

The sand in the filter strains out the larger particles like sediment, parasites, and amebas. Then this improved water passes through membrane filters which remove the bacteria and remaining parasites. The result is water that meets the World Health Organization's standards for improved water.

A SAM2 requires no electricity to function, making it the ideal solution for rural areas that lack electricity. Each school and clinic is taught how to use and maintain the filter, empowering them to be self-sufficient and address their own needs.

Our SAM2 community filter costs only $2,000 and last over 10 years.

SAM3 Filter

SAM3 (Sand And Membrane) filters are smaller versions of the SAM2 and are placed in households for a family and their neighbors. The upper bucket has 2 inches of coarse sand and 4 inches of fine sand that acts as a sand filter, filtering out sediment, worm cysts, and parasites. The water then flows into the bucket below where it is filtered through a .1 micron hollow fiber filter which removes virtually all bacteria. Each SAM3 costs approximately $100 for materials, training, and follow-up maintenance and home visits.

A SAM3 meets the World Health Organization's standards and requires no electricity to function, making it ideal for the rural districts where we work. Each household is taught how to use the filter, but also given the phone number of a local volunteer to call if they have any issues.

A SAM3 household filter costs only $100 and last over 10 years.

Rainwater Harvesting Systems

Rwanda is not the dry desert-like area you might assume. Based in the rift valley, Rwanda has a long rainy seasons that provide 40 to 50 inches of rain a year—and it only takes 5 inches of rain to fill a 10,000-liter cistern (like the tank shown at right).

We place these tanks at local churches, since they are often closer to people's homes than the river or swamp, this reduces the time spent traveling to collect water from other sources.

A rainwater harvesting system (installed by a volunteer Rwandan crew) costs roughly $3,200 for materials and installation. They shorten the walk for around 500 families every rainy season.

Churches sell the water at an affordable rate and use the income to maintain the system. Remaining funds are given to the poorest members of the community for school fees, uniforms, and other unaffordable costs.

A Rainwater Harvesting System (RWHS) costs $3,200

Training local people to implement the solutions empowers them to lead and make the program sustainable. Patrice has been a key volunteer for well over 5 years.


Five Sector Wrap Up Report Released March 2017

In 2012, 20 Liters announced plans to reach 87,702 people in five sectors along the Nyabarongo River in Rwanda, including Masaka, Gahanga, Ntarama, Mwogo, and Juru. We are thrilled to… Read More

We Need Your Help in 2017

We can’t make dirty water clean without your help. With 2017 fast approaching, we need your help to continue our work in regions where – through the support of advocates… Read More

Program Update: Feb 2016

Operations Headquarters in Juru 2016 is the year of clean water in Juru. We spent the last 10 weeks preparing the community and finalizing our plan. The local leadership council… Read More

Program Update: Jan 2016

Sifting sand, 8 days straight. It’s not an easy job, but it goes better when you sing. Our volunteers know that clean water means hard work, so they put in… Read More

More Stories

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