Organizations Alleviating Pakistan’s Water Crisis
Water is a necessity to any living being and yet some countries struggle immensely with it. One such country is Pakistan. Pakistan’s water crisis and sanitation issues have lasted more than 15 years. Pakistan has reached a level where it has less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per person and could potentially run out of water entirely within five years. Fortunately, there are several organizations that are working to solve Pakistan’s water crisis.

Change the World of One

Change the World of One has recently finished a campaign concerning the water crisis in Pakistan. Its effort, Pakistan Clean Water Project, identified water access and sanitation as the two biggest problems of the water crisis and aimed to lessen the water crisis by building water hand pumps and electric pumps in a rural village in Pakistan.

The project was a success with the installation of around 10 hand and electric pumps as well as two handwashing stations and latrines. While the work focused mostly on one village, one cannot ignore the outcome of the Pakistan Clean Water Project, especially considering what the project brought to light as possible.

Paani Project

Paani Project is one of the newest organizations working in Pakistan to address its water crisis. The project’s method centers around creating outside-of-the-box solutions to public health problems, donations and creating what they call a “movement.”

Donations and direct action are important for Paani Project as they are for any NGO. This is especially critical considering the costs of developing water pumps and systems. Paani Project recognizes that through their own actions, Pakistan’s water crisis can be tackled day by day.

Charity: Water

Charity: Water has recognized the link between poverty and a lack of clean water in many countries, including Pakistan. The organization is almost entirely transparent with its projects, donations and direct goal of providing clean drinking water on their company website. Its work in Pakistan has provided a significant number of people with water and essential resources. Since 2013, Charity: Water has funded approximately 320 projects and helped around 35,458 people by drilling wells.

USAID

USAID, an organization dedicated to giving aid to foreign countries, has a current four-year plan to aid Pakistan’s water crisis. The Sustainable Water Partnership works to establish water security in Pakistan, which will improve other aspects of life such as public health, economic gains and ecosystems.

This is not its only dive into tackling Pakistan’s water crisis. It also implemented the Pakistan Safe Drinking Water and Hygiene Promotion Project that ran for approximately four years to implement better management of water, improve hygiene and better the technical aspects of water treatment, all of which was able to cover 31 districts in Pakistan in the program’s first phase.

Alkhidmat Foundation

Alkhidmat Foundation is another organization that has found success in alleviating Pakistan’s water crisis. The organization has installed approximately 131 water filtration plants, 6,312 hand pumps, 1,846 water wells and around 930 submersible water pumps.

Giving to communities that are the most vulnerable is exactly how Alkhidmat Foundation has been successful. Many of these impoverished villages do not have the funding like in bigger cities, meaning these communities cannot afford water wells and pumps. The Alkhidmat Foundation has recognized this and is working tirelessly to bring more water to Pakistan.

While Pakistan’s water crisis continues well into the 21st century, these five organizations are doing their part to alleviate Pakistan’s water crisis and are moving one step closer to ending the global water crisis through direct feet-on-the-ground action, advocacy and awareness.

– Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Flickr

PCPartPickerPCPartPicker and charity: water formed an unexpected partnership, united in their common goal of providing clean drinking water for communities in developing nations.

PCPartPicker

PCPartPicker was founded in 2011 by Philip Carmichael. The website was designed to guide computer enthusiasts on how to build their PCs from scratch.

Carmichael, a Texas A&M University educated software engineer, started PCPartPicker with the intention of creating something that would impact more than just the PC-building community: “My desire was, and still is, to help people with fundamental needs that we often take for granted, such as access to clean water and sanitation.” That is why PCPartPicker has supported charity: water, a non-profit organization that provides access to clean drinking water in communities across 29 developing countries.

The World’s Water Crisis

In 2017, the World Health Organization reported that 2.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed water services. Of those 2.2 billion, 785 million do not have immediate access to clean drinking water. Immediate access in this case refers to access that takes less than 30min of travel time. In other words, 10% of the world’s population often have to travel long distances to collect water for themselves and their families.

Most of those who are unable to use a safely managed drinking water source end up using water that is contaminated as a result of poorly maintained sanitation and water services. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and dysentery can be spread through these contaminated water sources. Almost a million people die each year due to infected drinking water, unsafe sanitation and poor hygiene. These deaths are completely preventable.

If clean drinking water was more accessible, millions of people would not have to spend hours every day traveling to collect it. Instead, children could spend more time in school and community members could spend more time growing food, starting small businesses and earning an income. The 40 billion hours a year women spend walking to collect water in Africa alone could be invested in those activities which are far more beneficial for improving livelihoods and in turn alleviating poverty.

charity: water

Founded in 2006, charity: water seeks to end the global water crisis. The organization raises funds to provide safe drinking water in communities that historically have not had access. According to its website, charity: water works with experts within each community to develop clean water solutions that will be sustainable over time. Examples of sustainable solutions include rainwater harvesting tanks, wells, piped systems or BioSand Filters that treat contaminated water to make it safe for consumption.

Once the community has been provided access to safe drinking water, charity: water’s partners implement training for preventing disease through safe hygiene and sanitation practices. A “water committee” is also elected from within the community in order to keep the standard of the water safe for years after the organization completes its project.

As of November 2020, charity: water has completed or is working on 59,608 projects helping more than 11 million people across the world. Transparency is a priority to the organization, which has an interactive map on its website showing every location at which it has completed a project.

An Unexpected Team

In order to fulfill his desire to help others, Carmichael began donating PCPartPicker profits to charity: water right from the start of the company’s journey. After many requests, the website launched a merchandise store in 2012 and Carmichael pledged 100% of proceeds to be donated to charity: water. The first completion report was posted in 2014 when Carmichael shared that the merchandise proceeds as well as the portion of earnings he donated monthly, funded access to clean drinking water for 373 people in Malawi.

The latest report, posted in July 2020, shows that charity: water has completed several projects in Ethiopia, Malawi, Bangladesh, India, Rwanda, Niger, Nepal and Uganda as a direct result of PCPartPicker’s donations. Together, these organizations have helped 34, 853 people gain access to clean drinking water.

Clean, safe drinking water is a fundamental human right. Organizations such as charity: water and PCPartPicker are dedicated to helping the cause and ensuring clean water access for as many people as possible.

– Emma Maytham
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in HaitiIn 2020, the average life expectancy worldwide was 72 years; in Haiti, it was 64 years. The majority of the 500,000 Haitians over age 60 are economically dependent and nearly 80% of the population is forced to survive on less than $2 a day. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the older generation is not immune to this crisis. Elderly poverty in Haiti is an imperative issue in need of increased advocacy and aid.

Natural Disaster Created Major Need

The devastating earthquake of 2010 demolished Port-au-Prince. An estimated 250,000 people were killed and over 1.5 million were displaced from their homes. Many elderly were left without shelter, proper clothing and inadequate methods of sanitation. Age is the main factor contributing to the immense vulnerability of this population after disaster. Often, the young and healthy receive vital aid during catastrophes rather than the elderly. As a result, the lack of food and water has hit Haitian elders exceptionally hard.

Water can come with a hefty price tag that some cannot afford. Unfortunately, Haitians living in poverty often walk for miles to streams or ponds to obtain water. If that fails, people sometimes resort to “garbage-filled rivers” to supply their households with water for daily use. This can be an impossible task for an elderly Haitian struggling with mobility. The task of accessing clean water is even more of a challenge for those living in Haiti’s countryside. A majority of Haitians live in rural areas and almost 70% are deemed “chronically poor” compared to only about 20% living in urban areas.

Elderly Poverty in Haiti During COVID-19

In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to remember all groups need assistance. Different segments of society often receive help unequally. Those left behind in terms of aid tend to be the elderly poor, many of whom do not have the resources to help protect themselves. An October 2020 assessment found that 98% of older adult Haitians did not know where the nearest COVID-19 testing site or treatment facility was located. Soap and basic sanitary needs are now luxuries. Additionally, almost 90% reported having less than two days worth of food at home. Further, nearly half said their mental health had been affected and worry plagued them most, if not all, the time. The pandemic has worsened the situation of elderly poverty in Haiti, which was still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.

Aid for the Elderly

Nonprofits and NGOs have stepped up to aid the elderly in Haiti. One nonprofit committed to solving this need is Mission-Haiti, founded in 2005. Within its first year, the organization was able to build the Mission-Haiti Orphanage. The organization then furthered its efforts by opening The SAM Home for the Elderly, a Haitian-led elderly care program. The SAM Home for the Elderly provides elders in need with a safe place to live, access to medical care and three meals a day. Mission-Haiti also began an Advocates for Elders program, which allows anyone to sponsor an elderly Haitian in need for $35 a month.

Increased housing is one of many solutions to ending elderly poverty in Haiti. The World Bank’s projects in Haiti provide an array of other types of aid, including sanitation and water. One of the World Bank’s water projects has seen major success. In its efforts to build, extend and improve drinking water supply systems, more than 70,000 Haitians in rural areas have better access to clean drinking water.

In response to COVID-19, the World Bank collaborated with UNICEF and OREPA to set up more than 2,100 hand-washing stations. The organization has also helped to build 50 sanitation blocks in various public schools and markets. This has helped 26,000 people gain access to sanitation facilities. In the first three months of the pandemic, health care facilities were gifted with protective equipment, including 3.5 million masks. Additionally, around 750 oxygen concentrators were installed to aid in treatments for COVID-19 patients. The World Bank has also focused on awareness campaigns on the importance of good hygiene practices and regular hand-washing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Looking to the Future

The extensive list of adversities facing elderly Haitians will continue to require resilience. However, continued activism can eradicate elderly poverty in Haiti. But in order to achieve this, everyone must be included in the fight. Increased efforts to end elderly poverty in Haiti will allow the country’s life expectancy to continue its upward trend.

Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr

Ganges RiverMore individuals depend on the Ganges River in India than there are people in the United States. More than 400 million people live at the basin of the Ganges, making it one of the most important natural water resources in the world. A holy river in the Hindu faith, the Ganges River (or Ganga) is used to bathe, cook, wash clothes, conduct funerals and more. Entire businesses along the basin depend on the river, adding an economic dependence to it as well. Due to this immense usage, pollution has run rampant. The Ganga Action Parivar estimates that “2.9 billion liters of wastewater from sewage, domestic and industrial sources are dumped” in the river every single day. Pollution reduction in the river is a top priority to prevent hundreds of millions of Indians from facing water insecurity.

The World Bank Assists

In 2011, the World Bank targeted the Ganges River pollution issues by launching the National Ganga River Basin Project (or NGRBP). A $1 billion initiative, the NGRBP looked to create bank investments in the water sanitation department and develop better waste management control in India. While this did prove to be a step in the right direction, the Ganges still saw a rise in pollution. India’s inability to properly dispose of waste outpaced the World Bank’s project. After nine years, the World Bank looked to bolster its contribution to the fight to save the Ganges as more and more Indians were becoming sick. In June 2020, the Second Ganga River Basin Project received approval from World Bank directors despite the bank focusing on COVID-19, proving how dire the situation at the basin truly is. An 18-year commitment, this second NGRBP adds another $380 million to clean up the Ganges until 2038.

Ganga Action Parivar’s Impact

Along with international help from the World Bank, India also made pollution control a national issue. An array of agencies have come about in India centered around the purification of the Ganges. For over a decade, the Ganga Action Parivar (GAP) has taken a diplomatic approach to fight water pollution. Through communication with government officials, media outlets and fundraising, the GAP looks to bring awareness to the issue and demand action from within India. In 2016, the GAP launched the National Ganga Rights Act and began asking for support for it. The act detailed how there are both natural environmental and human rights on the line with the continued pollution of the Ganges River. More than just a body of water, the Ganges is an epicenter of religion, prosperity and life. Creating a natural rights act helps to ensure that action will mobilize to protect the water resource and that is exactly what the GAP has set out to do.

The Year 2020 and Beyond

The year 2020 has been a promising year for pollution reduction in the Ganges River. The World Bank launched and financed its second project centered around cleaning the water back in June 2020. New research suggests that there has also been a natural cleansing that has taken place over the past few months. Since COVID-19 forced India to shut down, the Ganges’ usage has dropped. In a video released by BBC News, just a mere 10% drop in usage throughout the pandemic has led to significant improvement in the sanitation of the Ganges. For years now, India’s government has been trying to find ways to heal the Ganges. While India and the world fight the COVID-19 virus, the Ganges River is healing. Once the lockdown ends, the work of the World Bank and GAP will be vital to keep the momentum going. If pollution rates continue to climb, India will have a water crisis on its hands. Sanitizing and protecting the Ganges is instrumental in helping India reduce its poverty rates and preserving a crucial water resource.

– Zachary Hardenstine
Photo: Flickr

WASH advancements in IndiaWater, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is a public issue in India. Launched in 2014, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SMB) of India has seen great success in recent years in improving the health and sanitation of India’s people. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has aided in the mission, helping to educate and institute new technologies, such as Sunidhi toilets. Aided by UNICEF, additional initiatives like the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) and the implementation of WASH in schools and health facilities are contributing to the reduction of harmful and unsanitary practices. There have been several key WASH advancements in India.

6  Facts About WASH Advancements in India

  1. Urban Centers Bear the Brunt. Nationally, 910 million citizens do not have access to proper sanitation. With the rapid increase in population density in cities, there is an increasing strain on water and sanitation services. Despite urban centers housing the majority of India’s population, urban sanitation has been underfunded.
  2. Swachh Bharat’s Toilet Access and Job Creation. SMB’s primary objective is to reduce open defecation in India. Between 2018 to 2019, 93% of households had access to toilets, a noticeable jump from 77% in the previous year. SMB’s efforts have also seen economic benefits, including an increase in job opportunities. The construction of the sanitation infrastructure is responsible for employing over two million full-time workers. The creation of an additional two million jobs is expected in the coming years.
  3. Water in Rural Communities. Between 2017 to 2018, India’s national water mission expanded to become the National Rural Drinking Water Mission (NRDWM). While other programs and departments addressed sanitation in urban centers, NRDWM cares for the rural regions of India. One goal is the institution of piped water supplies to rural households. As of 2019, “18% of rural households had been provided with Piped Water Supply (PWS) household connections.”
  4. iJal Safe Water Stations. The Safe Water Network, a nonprofit organization created by Paul Newman, has reached communities through its iJal water stations. The locally owned stations provide access to clean, quality water in communities where water security is scarce. In 2019, 86 new stations were built, with a total of 319 stations built, reaching over a million people across 319 communities.
  5. Better Community Toilets. Improper sewer networks and poorly maintained public toilets lead to open defecation. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has sought solutions to this crisis, including the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in 2011. The lack of safe public toilets is especially burdening on women. To address this concern, the WASH Institute leads the Sunidhi Toilet project. The project sees the construction of easily installable, self-cleaning public toilets.
  6. WASH Allies. USAID and UNICEF have worked in cooperation with the Government of India. As of September 2020, USAID reported recent achievements, including greater access to safe drinking water,  more household toilets and a decrease in public defecation. UNICEF has aided in the education and implementation of hygiene, particularly in schools and health facilities.

Recent years have seen several WASH advancements in India. The Indian government, large and small businesses as well as nonprofit organizations, are all playing an important part in ensuring access to safe water and sanitation. Education and creative solutions are made possible thanks to hard work and global cooperation.

Kelli Hughes
Photo: Flickr

Clean Drinking Water in the PhilippinesAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking, with people in rural areas with limited infrastructure being mostly affected. Within the Philippines, this concept manifests in that 91% of the country’s estimated 100.7 million population have access to basic water services, but access is highly inequitable across the country, with regional basic water services access ranging from 62% to 100%. To combat water insecurity, government bodies, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and independent parties have collaborated to ensure that all citizens have access to clean drinking water in the Philippines.

The Philippine Clean Water Act

In 2004, the government passed the Philippine Clean Water Act which aims to protect water bodies from pollution and monitor their safety. This was implemented through multiple boards of governors and local mayors who were given specific water sources to monitor and maintain. By localizing management, the government found that leaders were more driven to clean their water because it affected their personal community. In addition, this strategy hinged upon community involvement as well, which led to a greater public awareness of water sanitation. In other countries with a similar problem, this localized strategy could work to create a body of legislators invested in water access, which would lead to cleaner water overall.

Hydropanel Fields

Water sanitizing technology has also been instrumental in guaranteeing access to all populations in the Philippines, specifically the rural ones. For the indigenous people of Palawan, the lack of clean drinking water is due to their lack of access to city centers and infrastructure. SOURCE Global and Conservation International collaborated to create a field of hydropanels that will create 40,000 liters of clean drinking water each year. Because the hydropanels are portable and easy to assemble, they can theoretically be used anywhere in the world. This opens up possibilities globally for communities with inadequate drinking water access. Going forward, this model could be used to eradicate water insecurity.

Water.org

Another influential NGO has been Water.org, which provides no-interest loans to families trying to gain access to clean water in their homes. These loans are used to rig homes with plumbing as well as build wells. The organization is unique in that it addresses the economic issues associated with a lack of clean water. Without clean water, families contract diseases at higher rates, which limits their ability to work and earn an income. In addition, because these illnesses tend to affect children at higher proportions, access to clean water means a chance for education. Water.org’s belief is that by providing rural communities with their own funding, the people in that community will be able to build themselves up independently and ensure a legacy of success. As of now, the goal of the organization is to help the government in the Philippines reach its goal of access to clean drinking water for all by 2028.

Other Organizations for Water Access

Two other notable NGOs are DAI and Clean Water International. Both of these organizations work globally to ensure all people have access to clean water. In the Philippines, DAI specifically works to improve sanitation techniques. This has been accomplished through infrastructure projects that transport water in safer ways as well as education campaigns that teach communities how to check if the water is clean and how to clean it properly. Similar to this, Clean Water International has worked to increase sanitation. Both of these organizations maintain that proper sanitation is essential to access to clean water and have provided the funds to create proper water sanitation.

Access to Clean Drinking Water

Without access to clean water, communities are barred from work opportunities, exposed to disease and experience the effects of poverty at higher proportions. As seen in the Philippines, a multi-faceted and robust approach is needed to address this crisis and it requires the cooperation of all. The problem of lack of access to clean drinking water in the Philippines cannot be addressed simply by giving communities water bottles. It must be a ground-up approach that gives communities the tools to create and access clean water for years to come.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Rainwater harvestingTechnology has played a significant role in the reduction of global poverty. Two particular areas technology has improved impoverished communities are water access and water quality. For instance, a newly developed piece of technology showcases the potential for enhancing water security throughout Africa. The key is effective rainwater harvesting.

Water Supply Threats

In Africa, increasing water access and sanitation has become a top priority. Consequently, many organizations — the United Nations, the African Union, and the African Development Bank — have come together to solve the water crisis by sponsoring The Africa Water Vision for 2025. It warns that African water resources are threatened by pollution, environmental degradation, and a lack of responsible protection and development.

A New Smartphone App

Despite these threats, a new smartphone app has empowered Africans to efficiently procure their own water. Rainwater Harvesting Africa (RHA) is a smartphone app that the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization jointly developed. It enables Africans to use rainwater harvesting systems to obtain their own water.

Usually, rainwater is harvested through the construction of a central water tank that connects to various downspouts. But, with this app, households are able to capture rain runoff for essential personal use.

RWH Africa utilizes real-time meteorological data to track rain patterns throughout Africa. App users can input their location, the area measurement of their rooftop, the number of people living in their household, and how much water they use per day. The app uses this information to calculate how much water can be harvested at a given time for the needs of the user. Additionally, the app provides images and directions detailing how to construct rainwater harvesting systems with locally available materials.

Promising Factors

In addition, RWH Africa has built-in resources that can improve access to water throughout Africa. They can capitalize on increased technological infrastructure to expand its user base. GSMA estimates that 475 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone will become mobile internet users within the next five years, and 27% of their mobile internet connections will be on 4G. With increased smartphone usage throughout the continent, more Africans will be able to access this powerful tool of water procurement.

Although Africa needs to increase its internet capacities to maximize the app’s effectiveness, it has a more than sufficient water supply. In 2006, the U.N. Environment Programme and World Agroforestry Centre issued a report indicating that Africa alone receives enough rainfall each year to meet the needs of nine billion people. According to the report, Africa is not water-scarce, but the continent is just poorly equipped to harvest its water resources adequately and safely. RWH Africa gives Africans the knowledge they need to personally capture these vast water resources.

Furthermore, rainwater harvesting is low-cost and easy to maintain, making it widely accessible. According to The Water Project, a household rainwater harvesting system can hold up to 100,000 liters of water. This is enough to allow communities to decouple from centralized water systems that are subject to incompetent or corrupt management. Rainwater harvesting hence enables individuals to take matters into their own hands and decrease their reliance on undependable municipal water sources.

Technology Can Beat Poverty

As internet connection and smartphone usage expand, new solutions to poverty issues, such as water insecurity, will reach more people. RWH Africa serves as an educational and practical tool for rainwater harvesting and thus can be used as an example for similar future efforts. It signifies a positive outcome of increased cooperation between international organizations and local communities in combating global poverty.

John Andrikos
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Water poverty in NigeriaWater poverty in Nigeria is still a pressing issue today. Only 30% of northern Nigeria’s population can access safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities. The subsequent use of unclean water leads to the spreading of waterborne diseases such as cholera, guinea worm and hepatitis. The lack of water has impaired the livelihoods of farmers and led to a lower enrollment rate at schools, especially with girls. However, the situation is not without aid.

The History of Water Poverty in Nigeria

Since 1995, Nigerians have benefitted from WaterAid, a charity organization that has established a multitude of water and sanitation projects. The organization works through partnerships with local government authorities, civil society groups and state agencies to implement its programs. The projects have led to progress in development plans and data collection efforts that have increased clean water supply and access to safe toilets.

WaterAid has worked to improve water poverty in Nigeria by implementing its services in over 100 of Nigeria’s poorest communities, which include:

  • Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, where safe tap water is only acquired by 7% of the population.
  • Bauchi State where fewer than 50% of its people can access safe water and sanitation.

  • Benue State where most streams are contaminated.

  • Ekiti State where the main source of domestic water is pre-packaged water sachets and water vendors during the dry season.

  • Jigawa State where waterborne diseases are common.

  • Plateau State where most households rely on an unsafe water supply from government sources.

WaterAid, along with government support, has provided over three million Nigerians with clean water, hygiene and sanitation.

The Data4WASH Programme

The Abuja-based nonprofit Media for Community Change and US-based NGO BLI Global have a similar goal of eliminating water poverty in Nigeria. On August 27, 2020, they formed a partnership to launch The Data4WASH Programme. The program consists of an interactive online platform that accumulates data and maps GPS coordinates. It then creates a map that water-impoverished communities can utilize to advocate for themselves.

Through the map, empirical and widespread evidence can prove the need for adequate investment in the design and installation of clean water and sanitation facilities. Additionally, the program empowers civil society by involving them in the national initiative to improve water poverty in Nigeria. The map encourages people to identify and report water-deficient and poorly sanitized areas in their communities. For instance, final year students from The Department of Statistics at the University of Ibadan will participate in the data collection process.

COVID-19

The Data4WASH Programme has been especially valuable after COVID-19 disrupted Nigeria’s progress in alleviating water poverty. According to WaterAid, 60 million Nigerians lack access to a clean water supply and services, and 150 million people lack basic hand-washing facilities with soap and water.

By enhancing data collecting processes, Nigeria can fortify its most vulnerable communities and health care systems to withstand the present detriments of COVID-19. Further, it can institutionally protect against potential health threats in the future. These measures established by The Data4WASH Programme’s interactive map system would also satisfy The U.N.’s Global Goal 6 — “clean water and sanitation access for all, including safe and affordable drinking water.”

Locally crafted, community-driven initiatives like The Data4WASH Programme and intergovernmental organizations are vital to ending global poverty. One sets guidelines and the other provides outlets that encourage entrepreneurship. The two must work together to end water poverty in Nigeria and all around the world.

Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr

Sunlight-Powered Desalination ProcessAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.1 billion people around the world lack access to clean sources of drinking water. This figure is often quite surprising to many because it is difficult to comprehend how water can be so scarce when it is seemingly so bountiful. However, in truth, only 3% of Earth’s water is freshwater. Additionally, with current trends of rising temperatures and increasing worldwide consumption of freshwater, by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could face water scarcities. For this reason, researchers in Australia have developed a sunlight-powered desalination process to quickly convert tainted water into a safe, drinkable form.

The Process of Sunlight-Powered Desalination

In August 2020, a team of Chinese and Australian researchers based at Monash University in Australia announced via the science journal, Nature Sustainability, that they had developed a new sunlight-powered desalination process. The method uses their self-developed metal-organic framework (MOF), an extremely porous metal, called PSP-MIL-53. Once exposed to sufficient sunlight, this MOF is “activated” and absorbs particles like salt and bacteria from brackish water to create water that can be consumed by humans.

This sunlight-powered desalination process, according to the scientists participating in the study, produces water cleaner than WHO standards. WHO sets the standard for drinking water at having less than 600 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved solids. Meanwhile, this new method was able to reduce the number of dissolved solids from 2,233ppm to 500ppm of dissolved solids.

Clean Water in 30 Minutes

Along with creating water cleaner than WHO standards, the new sunlight-powered desalination process can desalinate brackish water in less than 30 minutes. This approach is more efficient than other methods of desalination with it generating nearly 37 gallons of potable water per day from only one kilogram of PSP-MIL-53.

Benefits for the Impoverished

By using sunlight for activation energy, the newly developed method does not require heat or electricity to jumpstart the active desalination. While other technologies that use processes like reverse osmosis require sophisticated energy infrastructure and dangerous chemicals to operate, the Australian-developed procedure does not. This will allow poor, rural areas in developing nations, places where water is increasingly becoming most scarce, to use this sunlight-powered desalination process to obtain drinkable water without needing to create a robust power grid nearby. Lack of chemicals and reliance solely on sunlight also makes this type of desalination energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly, minimalizing damage to surrounding ecosystems.

Further Potential for Developing Countries

With the potential to quickly and efficiently provide millions with safe, drinkable water, Monash University researchers are continuing to perfect the technology. According to lead scientists on the project, the sunlight-powered desalination process can be cheaply distributed to areas in dire need overcoming the cost barrier of desalination plants that have previously prevented developing countries from purchasing desalination technology. Professor Huanting Wang, one of the lead scientists, also stated that the byproducts of the desalination process, those being the minerals and other materials extracted from the water, could function as a secondary benefit of the technique by providing an environmentally-friendly source of raw materials that could help boost the economies of poor regions.

The Future of PSP-MIL-53

Much is still to be done by researchers at Monash University before PSP-MIL-53 is ready for widespread distribution. Despite this, it is clear that this new discovery provides hope for impoverished communities who face threats of drought or unclean water. The cost and energy requirements have always been an entry barrier to gaining access to potentially life-saving desalination plants. These scientists are gunning to change the world by providing the poor with access to clean, drinkable water.

– Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr

Drinkwell Systems, Purifying Drinking Water for Water-Scarce CommunitiesDrinkwell is an innovative technology platform that won the first Imagine H20 Urban Water Challenge. The objective of the technology company Drinkwell Systems is to provide critical clean water infrastructure in a way that is both environmentally and socially sustainable. Drinkwell Systems not only purifies and provides clean water for underserved communities, but it also provides jobs in the communities in which the water ATMs are installed.

How Does Drinkwell Work

Drinkwell is a system that is able to purify water at an impressive rate with a lower waste rate than reverse osmosis. The Drinkwell system purifies water by using the patented HIX-Nano technology, which only wastes 1% of the water put into the system, compared to 40 to 60% of input water. This company operates in three stages.

These stages are separated into design, build and operation and maintenance. In the design phase, the company tests raw water samples and uses its cloud-based database to paint a clearer picture of where water quality is the poorest and access to drinking water is lowest. During the building phase, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority build sheds while Drinkwell makes and installs the ATM and treatment system. Finally, in the operation and maintenance phase, the local water authorities maintain the systems through the usage of mobile applications. Through these applications, the water authorities are able to report issues that may arise in their systems as well as keep an eye on finances.

Drinkwell’s Current Initiatives

Currently, the company is focused on serving communities in Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh is currently facing a water and sanitation crisis. In a nation with 165 million people, there are 5 million citizens who do not have a reliable source of safe drinking water. The great waterways, such as the Ganges, Meghna and Brahmaputra rivers, all begin within the borders of other countries. Bangladesh is left with only 7% of the land that makes up these large watersheds, which leaves them with very little control over how much water they can access from these sources. Paired with rising salinity levels in the water and arsenic contamination in the groundwater, Bangladesh’s residents are suffering from a severe lack of access to clean water.

In India, fewer than 50% of the 1.353 billion population face water insecurity. Similar to Bangladesh, India’s water is often contaminated by chemicals like fluoride and arsenic. This contaminated water is found in nearly 1.96 million households. In addition to concerns surrounding contaminated drinking water, India also struggles with a quickly declining groundwater source. This is in part due to increased drilling over the last few decades. In a region with a high number of people who do not have access to safe water, services like Drinkwell are critical to helping people gain access to these essential services.

Looking Ahead

After winning the H20 Urban Water Challenge, the company partnered with the Chittagong Water Supply and Sewerage Authority. This partnership led to the implementation of four water ATMs in Bangladesh. With these water ATMs, Drinkwell’s systems were able to provide clean drinking water to 5,100 people. Drinkwell Systems currently has plans to install an additional 96 water filtration systems and ATMs in Bangladesh’s second-largest city in 2020 and 2021. In total, the company has been able to roll out water ATMs in more than 230 locations across India and Bangladesh. In addition to providing people with access to clean drinking water, Drinkwell has been able to create 340 jobs for locals.

In a relatively short amount of time, Drinkwell Systems has served 300 to 2,000 households in water insecure areas of India and Bangladesh, as well as created jobs for people living in these water-scarce areas. Advancements in water supply technology such as Drinkwell are an important step in solving water insecurity worldwide.

—Maddi Miller
Photo: Flickr