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Hot Water Fast: Healthier Children, More Time and Income for Mom

Our team traveled to the informal settlement of Altos del Pino (just outside of Bogota, Colombia) where we worked with over 20 families to observe their daily routines and the challenges they face due to the lack of running water. We discovered that a huge concern from mothers in the community was the ability to give their children a warm shower in the morning before school. Children in the community often bathe at 5 a.m. when it is dark and cold outside. According to parents, this often leads to unhappy children, headaches, and illness. Illness in children results in money spent on hospital visits and lost earnings from work.

Photo of Mariana del Carmen Somma
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Create a scalable, affordable hot water system for Altos del Pino and the nearly 785 million people around the world who lack access to water.* Easy access to hot pressurized water will increase quality of life, decrease the likeliness of illness, and time spent around the stove.
*Estimated with data from WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation. (2012)
Technical Challenge:
Creating an affordable, safe, efficient, flexible, durable way to heat & pressurize water for families living on $4-$10 a day.

  • Developed from initial 2-week field research in Colombia, and three subsequent visits for prototype testing and feedback.  
  • Co-creation with families in the community to refine concepts.
  • Value of solution validated by three rounds of functional prototype field testing in Colombia.
  • Research Description (Required)Share additional details of your Research. How does it inspire you? What are the key learnings? What questions does it raise for you? Don't forget that you can 'update this' in due course too.

During our initial two weeks with families in Altos del Pino, we discovered that mothers spent up to six hours waiting for water to heat up for bathing, drinking, and cooking. This holds them hostage to their stoves and limits their ability to earn extra income outside of the home. For families who are living “from hand to mouth” any extra income would be immensely impactful to their quality of life. The families we spent time with had aspirations of saving up for home improvements and opening their own businesses. Mothers voiced a strong desire to contribute to their families’ economic situations.

Families prioritize warm showers for children to help them stay healthy and clean for school. The ability to bathe comfortably was a resounding concern. Without running water, bathing is an involved process, requiring multiple steps. Most families resort to bathing by parts, a process that is undignified, uncomfortable, and time-consuming. On average, it takes 35 minutes to heat enough water for one child to bathe comfortably. Mothers wake up at 4 a.m. to start the day’s bath and drinking water. Often times, children do not get hot baths due to lack of time. Because the stove is often occupied by heating water, breakfast cannot be cooked and is often skipped. This results in children going to school hungry.

These key observations allowed us to construct the ecosystem that these families live in and understand the chain of cause and effects that creates challenges in their lives. As we mapped out this ecosystem, we discovered that so many activities depended on waiting for water to heat. If we could alleviate the vast amount of time and effort needed to heat water, we could potentially:
  • Reduce the likeliness of illness in children from taking cold showers. This means less money and time spent on hospital visits and medicine.
  • Allow mothers to be more efficient at responsibilities in the home so they can earn extra income.
Calientamigos Team: Tianyi Sun, Kevin Chang, Della Tosin, Mariana Somma


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Photo of Irene Yen-Hsuan Shih

Great insights and ideas! I really like it :)
I'd like to share a great innovation, which is transforming shits into energy, literally, so that the electricity can be used to heat water!

Photo of Mariana del Carmen Somma

Hi Irene! Thanks for this, so innovative!

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