Adsorbing for appropriateness: An interdisciplinary evaluation of the implementation of a defluoridation technique in rural Tanzania

Katrin Eitrem Holmgren, Purdue University


Rural communities in northern Tanzania are exposed to high concentrations of fluoride in their drinking water due to volcanic activity and aquifer material composition. Excess intake of fluoride results in severe health concerns such as reduced dental quality and skeletal deformities. A technology to reduce the amount of fluoride in drinking water is bone char adsorption columns. This study evaluates the implementation of such a defluoridation technique, which was introduced to a rural Tanzanian village in 2007–2008 by a non-governmental organization (NGO). The household-scale device was assessed through an interdisciplinary approach to determine if the technology and its implementation can be viewed as an appropriate technology (AT). The investigated criteria for the concept of AT were: participation, gender consideration, education, functioning technology, maintenance and affordability. In order to determine the level of appropriateness viewed through the eyes of the targeted groups, the six criteria were ranked in terms of importance. Reasons for adopting or not adopting the technology along with the technology's diffusion were further investigated. Findings of the study were based on semi-structured interviews, water sampling and laboratory experiments. Input from the implementing organization and from over 45 adopters, non-adopters, members of water committees and local governments were gathered, analyzed and compared. Water samplings, measurements of fluoride concentrations and a rapid small scale column test (RSSCT) were further carried out. The outcome of the study indicated that the implementation of the bone char adsorption columns could not be classified as an AT as defined by the criteria listed above, although degrees of appropriateness varied among stakeholder groups. The three criteria participation, gender consideration and maintenance were all found to be in need of improvement. When introducing a new device to a society, participation and education were typically ranked as most important, while maintenance and affordability were commonly placed as least important. An initially rapid adoption rate of the technology was observed, followed by a high discontinuance. The major reason for the latter relates to inadequate short- and long-term maintenance for the adsorption columns. The motives for adopting the device included that people felt it fulfilled a need, they felt obliged to adopt, or because they were encouraged by previous adopters. The reasons for not adopting the technology included discouragement from preceding users, lack of feeling involved in the project and not seeing or being aware of the benefits of fluoride removal. The outcomes illustrate the need of understanding local context to appropriately introduce and implement a technology. Lessons learned from the study are applicable to projects targeting bone char adsorption columns in particular and development work in general.




Blatchley, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Water Resource Management|Sub Saharan Africa Studies|Environmental engineering

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