How a Simple DIY Low-Cost Sand Filter System Can Help Solve Clean Water Scarcity Issues

June 26, 2024

Experiment with water filtering technologies.

Julio Fernandes/UNDP Timor-Leste


Access to clean water is not merely a luxury; it's a fundamental human right. However numerous regions worldwide, including Timor-Leste, this essential necessity remains a daunting challenge for countless individuals. acknowledging the critical role of clean water in health and well-being, the UNDP Timor-Leste Accelerator Lab and the UNDP ZEESM (Special Economic Zones for Social Market) Project have embarked on a journey to innovative solutions that empower communities to access clean water affordably and sustainably.

At the core of this initiative lies a simple yet powerful idea, the creation of low-cost, do-it-yourself (DIY) water filtration systems. These systems, assembled from locally available materials such as fine sand, coarse sand, anthracite coal, pea gravel, and gravel, have the potential to convert rainwater into clean potable water. By harnessing existing community resources, our goal is to develop solutions that are both effective and economically viable and can be replicable.


Our journey began with a series of experiments and discussions involving experts, practitioners, and community members actively involved in water filtration systems. These interactions provided us with invaluable insights into diverse approaches and experiences, laying the foundation for our innovative solutions.

An essential aspect of our initiative lies in prioritizing community involvement and empowerment. Rather than imposing top-down solutions, we advocate for collaborative efforts with communities to co-create sustainable interventions tailored to their specific needs and contexts. This participatory approach ensures that solutions are not only technically sound but also culturally appropriate and socially inclusive.

As part of our initiative, we conducted a preliminary assessment of future water usage for rainwater harvesting systems in several public schools and health centers in RAEOA (Special Administrative Region of Oe-Cusse Ambeno) municipality - an enclave region located in the west part of Timor-Leste. This assessment revealed significant challenges, with water consumption demand far exceeding available water sources, and common water quality degradation water quality due to unprotected sources[1]. These findings underscore the urgent need for innovative solutions to address water scarcity issues in the region. Moving forward, we remain committed to collaborative efforts aimed at refining and scaling up our water filtration solutions. By leveraging the power of innovation, technology, and community engagement, we believe that we can make meaningful strides toward ensuring access to clean water for all in Timor-Leste.


[1] Assessment report - Rainwater harvesting project.pdf

Given the challenges posed by water scarcity in our communities, it's evident that alternative solutions are urgently needed. With drinking, washing, and cooking being essential activities, decisive action is necessary to address this pressing issue. In this blog, we will explore a series of experimentation processes aimed at discovering alternative, low-cost, and accessible DIY approaches for accessing clean water.
Innovation often arises from necessity, and the need for clean water is no exception. By leveraging straightforward, locally available resources, we can develop solutions that empower communities to tackle water scarcity directly. Throughout our experimentation, we will emphasize the potential of DIY methods as a sustainable and affordable means of accessing clean water.

The method we used in the process involved a sense-making approach, which included a series of meetings, site visits, and discussions. During these interactions, we actively engaged with experts, practitioners, and community members, who are actively involved in water filtration systems. Our primary goal was t to gather information and diverse perspectives to identify locally suitable solutions that address community needs and support local entrepreneurs in this field.

Key activities involved during the experimentation process included stakeholder meetings with BEE Timor-Leste, Kopernik, Engineering Without Border, and the Nurak Suli Hamutuk Cooperative Group. These meetings provided valuable insights into various approaches to water filtration systems, ranging from traditional methods to more modern solutions. Notable examples included:


1.   Sea Desalination System conducted by Luciano from the NSH Cooperative Group.

2.   Water Desalination by Kopernik.

3.   Sawyer Filter Prototype developed by Engineering Without Borders.

4.   Reverse Osmosis systems.

5.   Clinca 205 (a specific filtration technology).

6.   Evaporative Desalination System.

7.   Nasava Water Filters.


This sense-making process allowed us to explore different perspectives and ideas, ultimately leading to the identification of the most suitable solutions for the local context.

Furthermore, these activities have allowed us to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current landscape of water filtration systems in Timor-Leste. Through our engagement with experts, practitioners, and community members, we have identified opportunities for improvement and innovation. Looking ahead, our goal is to leverage this knowledge to develop customized solutions that address the specific needs of communities while fostering local entrepreneurship in the field.


Experimentation Process Diagram


The experimentation process is intentionally designed to be simple, easy, and replicable. The diagram depicts a straightforward design, complete with photo illustrations detailing the data collection and experimentation steps. It guides users through demonstrating how to assemble a low-cost DIY sand filter system using locally available materials. Our aim, through the diagram, is to inspire and empower individuals to replicate this water filter system anywhere in Timor-Leste.
In summary, the Low-Cost DIY Sand Filter System provides a straightforward method that anyone can implement at home to reduce cost, particularly in rural or water-scarce areas. This simple approach offers a practical solution for obtaining clean water, promoting accessible water purification methods that may not have been previously considered. By sharing these steps, our goal is to encourage more people to create their own filtration systems at home.