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Innovative solutions for simple showers?


Dear KP

For a Project in Chocó, Colombia, we are searching for innovative solutions in order to allow very poor people to take a bath decently.

The government is paying for the construction of washrooms but the zone has no water networks and so the people collect rainwater using their zinc sheet roofs. The problem is that the collecting tanks are at ground level; we are thinking in two different approaches to allow a shower bath:

a) elevate the water using manual bombs (problem with this is the cost of the structure to support the elevated tanks). b) use portable showers, like the one attached (camping shower bag), of course using different materials.

Camping shower bag

Many thanks and best regards

4 Answers


Various approaches have been tried to this problem and much depends on your budget. If water is available at ground level then the simplest option is simply for the user to collect a bucket of water and then shower themselves using a jug. All that is needed is a simple structure for privacy and adequate drainage.

Moving up a step you can suspend a camping shower bag or bucket with a shower head outlet with tap from the roof of the shower structure or raise it using a pulley system.

The most expensive option is a substantial building which can support a water tank, manual pump to raise water and a properly plumbed in shower.

One issue you did not mention is water heating. Depending on the climate this may be done by leaving the water container (preferably coloured black) out in the sun to heat up. With the more sophisticated set up proper solar panels to heat water could be included. The other option is heating water on a fire or with gas/electricity or whatever fuel is normally used.

Neil Noble

Referring back to an old publication Renewable Energy Technologies: Their Application in Developing Countries by L’A Kristoferson &V. Bokalders. It describes some simple do-it-yourself systems for solar water heating such as a black tray containing water and covered with water or black garden hose coiled up so that the water heats up as it passes through the hose. A more advanced form of integrated solar water heater consists of a black water tank inside an insulated box which has a glass wall to admit sunlight. These are sometimes called “breadbox” solar water heater. These would be a batch solar heaters which means that they are filled up with a quantity of water and then this water is heated up. I made of one of these in Botswana many years ago with an insulated body and simple collector. This design was an approach to simplify solar water heaters from the conventional design but was using similar materials such as the plastic and expanded foam.

There is a design of water heater at and one at WOT.

WOT - Werkgroep Ontwikkelingstechnieken, Working Group on Development Techniques
Vrijhof 205/206
P.O.Box 217
7500 AE Enschede
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 53 489 3845
Fax: +31 53 489 2671
A non-profit organisation working in the field of small scale sustainable energy, based at the University of Twente.

There is also a report on an interesting mobile design from South Africa in Boiling Point. Consumer response to mobile solar water heating in the low-income sector, South Africa>=1

But then you still have the issue of raising the water to the correct height. The only example I have seen was a small hand operated diaphragm pump that was used to pump water to an overhead tank for showers. The diaphragm pump can either be a single action diaphragm pump or a double action diaphragm pump. The technical brief shows a single acting version. These pumps are good for low level lift by hand. One I looked at was £17 for a very small pump. Alternative low-cost pump options would include rope and washer style pumps which can be made locally. WOT has also been involved in Rope and Washer pumps.


Hi Richard I hope all is well with you - I'm in Philippines right now with ERU and don't have your address to hand. With regards to simple showers for poor communities a very simple solution could be one that I have used for simple hand washing . Basically a simplified 'shower in a bag' you mention are familiar with . For hand washing we make a ladle by attaching a wire to a drinks/ beer can which has the top removed and a few small holes at the bottom . This can be dipped into the water container at ground level and taken into and hung up above washing area. Ok you probably need a larger 'can ' such as a cooking oil tin but even a small can will last a surprising length of time .... Just an idea to work from, its very simple cheap and replicable ... worth a try ? Cheers Dan


When I worked in Af'stan we used to have a strip wash with a bucket of warm water in the washroom. When trekking in the Andes the porters used to give us a fruit bowl sized dish of water to bathe in each evening and we made do with that. Is it necessary to go to the expense and trouble of introducing an extra high level tank and piping to have a cold shower when half a bucket of warm water will do the same job? If a metal bucket is used it can go straight onto the fire for warming up the water.

Cheers, Alan J