Access to drinking water: solutions for everyone

Summary

According to a recent study published in February in the review Science Advances, four billion people throughout the world, including nearly two billion in India and China, regularly undergo severe water shortages. Even more worrying, some 500 million people have to face water scarcity throughout the year. Given these disturbing figures, and with the aim of preventing a global lack of water, an increasing number of cheap and simple solutions are being developed to collect and purify water unfit for human consumption and transform it into drinking water. A quick rundown of the latest innovations.

22Mar.
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A billion people throughout the world have no access to drinking water. Today, a third of the world’s population continues to suffer from water shortages, given that 60% of the world’s fresh water resources are divided between nine countries (Brazil, Russia, China, Canada, Indonesia, the USA, India, Colombia and Zaire). These figures show how access to this vital substance remains a major problem for humankind, particularly in developing countries.

Numerous innovations are now producing solutions, mainly in terms of filtering and purification, but also as regards collection. One example is the Waterwheel: a simple tool that is revolutionizing the lives of people in areas with no running water. To prevent men and women having to carry heavy jars on their backs or heads, the Wello company has invented a plastic container in the form of a wheel, which just needs to be filled, closed and turned on its side so that it can be rolled along. Up to 45 liters of liquid can be transported in this way: a solution that is less tiring, quicker and more efficient.

Purification solutions

But the most impressive innovations are found in water purification. The French company Sunwaterlife markets Aqualink, a mobile water purifier that runs on photovoltaic energy, and transforms salt water or contaminated fresh water into drinking water. The system fits into a case of barely 40 kg. This just needs to be opened to plug in a few connections and deploy the solar panels that power the pump. The water passes through three filters, producing decontaminated water free of all viruses and pathogens, and certain pollutants like arsenic and fluoride. « Our solution produces up to 800 liters of drinking water a day, » says Christophe Campéri-Ginestet, president and co-founder of Sunwaterlife.

Meanwhile, two Harvard graduates have developed an even cheaper solution, which is mainly sold in Uganda. It consists of simple flowerpot-size recipients made of clay and rice glumellae (husks). These can filter and purify water, because when they are fired, microscopic holes are created allowing liquids to pass through while trapping physical pollutants, while a silver nitrate coat on the container eliminates 99.9% of chemical contaminants.

Another solution in clay –which also comes in wood – has been developed by the students of a Moroccan engineering school. The Safa is an inexpensive physical and chemical water filter, which is produced by Moroccan housewives, thus reconciling ecology with solidarity.

A life-saving book… that can be drunk!

Other systems use nanoparticles to filter water, like the « Drinkable Book » co-created by the American company FoliaWater and the WATERisLIFE foundation. This completely new book, which lasts around a year, provides safety instructions for hydrating yourself, but even more usefully, its pages, printed in non-toxic ink, are impregnated with nanoparticles meaning that you can filter water and make it drinkable. « This filtering process eliminates 99.9% of bacteria in the water, » says Theresa Dankovich, the scientist who invented the paper. A practical solution to prevent diseases like cholera and typhoid. The even more sophisticated Omniprocessor is a machine that transforms wastewater into energy and drinking water, and has notably been tried out in Dakar in Senegal. This tool developed by the company Janicki Bioenergy on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, heats sewage sludge up to a very high temperature (over 1000°C ) to produce ash and steam now free of microbes and odors. The steam activates turbines and generates electricity. The condensation is then collected in the form of droplets cleansed of all impurities. According to its designers, the machine can produce around 10,800 liters of drinking water per day!

An app for managing water supply points  

To manage all these innovations improving the water operation system – and even its flaws – the Netherlands-based open source internet and mobile software foundation Akvo, specializing in humanitarian action, has created Akvo FLOW. This application, now used on smartphones by nearly 200 organizations (governments, NGOs, etc.), makes it possible to conduct investigations by rapidly gathering accurate data in the field about water supply and sanitation points. A tool that makes it easy to map and analyze a situation and its development, even in isolated districts with no infrastructures!

All these sophisticated yet inexpensive innovations help to achieve one of the sustainable development objectives adopted last September by the UN: that of « guaranteeing everyone access to water and sanitation, and ensuring the sustainable management of water resources. »

Photo © Ronymichaud / Pixabay