Household UV disinfection: A sustainable option

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.7 million people die annually from diseases related to inadequate water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. Diarrhoeal illnesses are one of the leading causes of death in the developing world with 90% of mortalities occurring in children under the age of five. Waterborne diseases can also prevent children from going to school and prevent adults from attending to their daily work.

At the University of California Berkeley, researchers in the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) have created a point of use (POU) technology, the UV-tube, to address the need for potable water. The UV-tube system is effective and affordable, provides rapid disinfection, and is low maintenance. It employs ultra-violet light to inactivate organisms and thereby prevent waterborne pathogens from spreading. It has an adaptable design that can serve the needs of a community or an individual family. In order for the UV-tube to be an appropriate option for water disinfection, biological contamination of the water source should be a significant concern by users and a reliable source of electricity must be available to power the UV-Tube. The UV-tube does not address water quality issues such as salinity, heavy metals, or other non-biological contamination.

An important component of the UV-Tube project is the dissemination strategy. In order for a technology to be adopted, a user driven design and need based implementation methods must be used. Before a regional model of the UV Tube is developed and disseminated, researchers inquire into local customs, meet with local stakeholders, conduct a needs and feasibility assessment, assess risk for contamination in water sources, and develop an educational package that includes hygiene and safe water storage information.


The UV-Tube project at the University of California Berkeley strives to:

  • Develop a low cost, effective way to disinfect water for rural underserved regions;
  • Spread awareness of the point-of-use approach to water disinfection to academia, NGOs, governmental organizations, and communities at the grass roots level;
  • Explore and develop dissemination strategies sensitive to local needs;
  • Educate students on development and sustainability;
  • Develop liaisons between academia and NGOs.

Core Principles:

  • Safe drinking water is essential for good health;
  • Disinfection at the point-of-use level can be highly effective;
  • Affordable and user-friendly technology;
  • Adaptable design to fit different cultures and environments;
  • Culturally sensitive implementation method;
  • Use of local resources (material, labor, and implementation support);
  • Rigorous testing of system performance;
  • Culture and knowledge exchange;