Monday, January 25, 2010

Tippy Taps: Handwashing Made Easy

by Ce Zhang

When I volunteered with UVP in the summer of 2009, our team visited two primary-level schools in our village that were interested in forming health clubs. Surprisingly, we noticed that in both schools, there was a lack of a hand-washing facilities for children to wash their hands immediately after using the latrine or after playing outside. For many of us growing up in industrialized nations such as America, we are accustomed to having bathrooms with piped water supplies, drinking water from faucets after exercise, or even portable hand sanitizers to use after having a single thought of uncleanliness. Yet, in many countries where water technologies are scarce, preventable bacterial diseases surface and cause substantial mortality that can otherwise be prevented. Moreover, it can be difficult and costly to inhibit epidemics such as malaria and AIDS, but simple and cheap hygienic interventions such as handwashing can help prevent the spread of bacterial and diarrheal diseases, which are the 4th leading cause of death for all ages in Uganda according to the WHO.

In many destitute rural areas, the lack of access to both water technologies such as a piped water supply becomes an imposing barrier to handwashing. Everyday in Uganda, the youngest are hit the hardest: 17% of all deaths in children under the age of 5 are caused by diarrheal diseases. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has acknowledged that the simple act of washing hands with soap and water could potentially cut this figure by almost half. So without any piped water systems, how does one wash his/her hands? One idea could be washing your hands in a bowl of water, but then another person could be washing their hands in the dirty bowl you left behind. You could also try walking to the nearest water pump and ask somebody else to pump water while you wash your hands- probably not the most efficient idea because that requires two people and wastes a lot of water. So how can we do better? Enter the Tippy Tap.

The tippy tap is a simple and highly economical technology to encourage handwashing in the village. The tippy tap primarily consists of a jerrycan or jug which releases a small amount of water each time it is tipped. When the “tap” is released, it swings back to its starting upright position. The tippy-tap is easily made with commonly available materials and not dependent on a piped water supply. Also, it is very hygienic in that it is foot-operated, you only touch the soap. Lastly, it conserves 10 times the average amount of water used for handwashing in regular faucets. In our village, we provided materials for primary-level students to build tippy-taps near latrines at their schools. It was a success in that the students were very involved in constructing and eventually using the finished tippy-taps. Students at one school even erected a large sign near their latrine stating: “Wash your hands after using the latrine.”

So, reader, I bet you are now itching to make a tippy-tap as well? If so, I will now outline the steps on how to make a Tippy Tap using simple materials found almost anywhere. I highly encourage anybody to spread the idea of Tippy-Taps in areas where there is a lack of access to handwashing during critical moments (for example, after using the latrine, before handling food, while cleaning a child). It is a simple, low cost, and fun idea that could potentially make a tremendous impact in preventing the spread of bacterial diseases.

Materials needed for 1 Tippy Tap

2 long fork-shaped (Y) branches

1 long stick (holds jerry can)

1 short stick (acts as lever)


Durable string

5 liter jerrycan or jug

Knife or scissors (to cut string)

Bar of soap


1. Poke three medium sized holes on the front side (side closest to cap) of the jerry can and fill with water
2. Dig two holes in the ground that are spaced and put the two fork-shaped branches in the holes.
3. Cover up the holes firmly so forked shaped branches are steady
4. Slide 1 long stick through the handle of the jerrycan/jug and place long stick on the two fork shaped branches.
5. Tie string firmly to jerrycan/jug cap or handle and connect string to short stick on the ground. (Note: short stick on the ground functions as the foot lever that tips the jerrycan down).
6. Poke hole through center of soap and tie with string to dangle off the long stick on the Y-shaped branches
7. Step on short stick lever and adjust angle of lever accordingly so that the jug tips over and back to original position in a smooth motion.
8. Wash your hands!


Loralee said...

Love this idea!

Kirstin said...

Alison, I'm so excited that UVP has a set sanitation program now, especially with the village teams and the contests. This is going to make such a big difference. Will try to get a small contribution to you guys this week. Yay!

Zander said...

very nice..very creative.