A Boil Order is Just Life (In Some Countries)

It’s amazing how many people really don’t know what to do during a boil order.  It’s really not that big a deal.  Here are some quick facts and tips that might help you.

Water really only requires pasteurization to  be safe to drink.

Organizations like Solar Cookers International and UNICEF have been working for decades in much of the world to encourage households to use a simple solar oven to pasteurize their water before drinking.  Worms, microbes, etc (like Giardia) die at 131 degrees F.  Bacteria (like E Coli) dies at 140 degrees. And viruses (like Hep A) die at 149 degrees.  The time it takes to pasteurize is also only 15 seconds.

If you paid attention in science class (unlike me) then you would know that water boils at 212 degrees.  So you can see that during the time it takes for your water to reach 212 degrees and then cool back down again, it’s been way past 15 seconds. (the actual time it takes to reach boiling will vary depending on different conditions from fuel to elevation to ambient air temperature).  That’s why according to the Wilderness Medicine Institute, you only have to see the water come to a rolling boil.  At that point you can turn it off immediately.  You DO NOT have to leave it boiling for ten minutes. That’s just silly.

I'm grateful to WMI for their first class training!
I’m grateful to WMI for their first class training!

So you can use your stove to boil water. What else can you use to purify water? 

Water purifiers are handy gadgets.  My two choices are Katadyn and Berkey.  The Big Berkey is my product of choice.  Its 2.25 gallon stainless steel tank keeps algae from growing inside and it sits on your counter for easy access.  We used a large counter top Katadyn purifier in Zambia but it was made of translucent plastic which allowed sunlight in.  Because of that, algae built up in the tank and we had to clean it quite frequently.


But what if you didn’t have access to replacement ceramic filters for your purifier?  What if you didn’t have any propane or electricity for your stove? 

Well, you could still do what many people do all over the world.  Like I mentioned earlier, you could set up a small solar oven and pasteurize your water.  Heck, you could get a solar shower from the camping section at Walmart (did I just encourage people to go to Walmart?) and hang it out in the sun and your water would be pasteurized in no time.

If you really want to go low-tech you might consider a wonderful invention called a Biosand filter. 

Did I mention this was one of the cheapest options?  This is what I would choose for the long haul.  Build one and keep it near the kitchen (next to your bamboo garden!)  The ones made with concrete really can look quite elegant (see below).  The technology was developed in Canada.  We learned about it through Seeds of Hope who taught us how to build one and donated a bunch of containers and a mold for us to take to Zambia.  The Biosand filter makes use of about 26″ of sand inside a container and a “bio layer” in the top inch or so of water.  Basically, the bio layer and the sand work together to kill and filter out 99.9% of all pathogens.  They’re easy but time-intensive to build.



Last but not least, don’t forget these two common mistakes that people made when they came to see us in Zambia:

1. Use purified water to brush your teeth.  You can rinse it with tap water if you set it out in the sun to dry (still maybe a bit risky – although I did it).

2. Remember to keep your mouth shut in the shower!

Hope that encourages you to not only think about the next 48 hours but maybe for a more permanent, sustainable setup.  It really stinks being at the mercy of public utilities, doesn’t it?  Infrastructure is nice.  Make use of it wisely.  And then get beyond it if you can.  Would any of you like to add to the list here?  There were several other methods of purifying water that I didn’t mention for one reason or another.  Maybe you want to build a case for another method?

2 thoughts on “A Boil Order is Just Life (In Some Countries)

  1. We used the steel and ceramic filter system regularly in India and Kenya too! This boil order brings back childhood memories..

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