Water in India and Nepal
With populations totaling over one billion people and high economic growth rates, the middle classes of India and Nepal are rising quickly as the 21st century progresses. However, with this rise in standard of living comes increased demand for resources. This includes one of the most precious resources on Earth – water, or “paani” in Hindi, a commonly spoken language in both India and Nepal. As Indians and Nepalis elevate themselves out of poverty, the demand for freshwater grows higher. Water in India and Nepal is used for activities ranging from cooking to leisurely use. The limited financial resources of the Indian and Nepali governments pose a significant challenge for ensuring adequate water for each nation’s urban middle classes and rural, largely subsistence farmers. Luckily, local initiatives and international partners are chipping in to solve this issue, with considerable success.

The Challenge

India is home to 1.3 billion people, and its population increases by over 10 million people per year. With an urbanization rate of 34.9% and rapidly growing, the strain on natural resources is significant. The quick expansion of India’s middle class and the problem of resource mismanagement lead to the popularization of the term “Day Zero” across India’s metropolises. “Day Zero” refers to a hypothetical future date in which Indian cities will run out of the groundwater supply required to quench the thirst of their urban populations. Unfortunately, for some Indian cities, that hypothetical scenario is already reality.

The city of Chennai, home to over 10 million people, experienced a “Day Zero” event last year. After losing access to groundwater resources, Chennai and cities like it are forced to tap into the resources of neighboring towns and villages, jeopardizing millions of farmers and their livelihoods. This also limits farmers’ chances at rising out of poverty. Some estimates suggest that by 2030 demand could outpace supply by a factor of two.

Similarly, the nation of Nepal faces rising challenges ensuring water for its people. While considerably smaller than its southern neighbor, Nepal’s population density is high, home to the same number of individuals (over 30 million) as the much larger Canada. With higher average glacial melt as a result of climate change and an increasingly thirsty economy, the Nepali government must contend with more flooding coupled with more consistent drought. Its financial issues mirror those of India, so it too must find innovative ways to conserve and replenish its water supplies. Addressing water in India and Nepal is essential for their success as emerging economies.

The Paani Foundation – India

Though many NGOs, IGOs, and state governments are currently attempting to address challenges with India’s water supply, one in particular stands out: The Paani Foundation. Founded by famous Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, The Paani Foundation assists villages in creating natural water tables and irrigation systems. It works to sculpt the land in order to limit topsoil runoff, maintain water levels during drought and improve local biodiversity. The foundation’s focus is primarily in the Indian state of Maharashtra, located west of the Arabian sea, home to 110 million people. The scale of The Paani Foundation’s work in Maharashtra is so immense that it is often recognized as the largest permaculture project in the world. The work of this NGO showcases how inexpensive and innovative solutions are working today to address the growing water challenges in India.

The Paani Programme – Nepal

Unlike the Paani Foundation, developed by a famous Bollywood actor, the Paani Programme is a cooperative between Nepali villagers, the non-profit AVKO and the United States Agency for International Development. Though the focus of this initiative centers on biodiversity conservation, this program, like India’s Paani Foundation, aims to develop irrigation and management systems that are sustainable in design and easy to maintain. The benefits of preserving biodiversity are two-fold, as resilient ecosystems that improve local wildlife numbers also contribute to the sustainable use of water supplies. With more reliable water access and more resilient ecosystems as a result of the investments of the Paani Programme, villagers across Nepal are more able to enjoy economic resilience and elevate themselves out of poverty.

With booming populations and increasingly thirsty economies, water in India and Nepal must rely on better systems to maintain its flow. Homegrown initiatives like The Paani Foundation are showcasing how local creativity can earn international praise. At the same time, programs like USAID’s Paani Programme provide an important example of the necessity of American federal interest in global poverty reduction and sustainable resource management. With “paani” being the most valuable natural resource on Earth, it’s time to give it the attention it truly deserves.

– Saarthak Madan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

Water Purification Technology in India
India has one of the highest poverty rates in the world, with more than two-thirds of its population living in extreme rural poverty. Although India has one of the fastest-growing economies, millions remain confined to impoverished villages and slums. To exacerbate the issue, 163 million Indian residents have long been plagued with an inability to access safe drinking water. Recently, new technologies and regulations have been put into place to improve water standards in the region and prevent the transmission of several waterborne diseases. Here are three ways that water purification technology in India is saving lives.

3 Ways Water Purification Technology in India is Saving Lives

  1. Low-cost water purifiers: India is a top contender for the clean water market. In recent years, residents in India now have more readily available access to low-cost point-of-use water purifiers. These purifiers make use of technologies like nano-filtration, ultra-filtration and ultraviolet systems to ensure cleaner water for their users. Commercial companies such as Havells and Tata, the major manufacturers of these water purifiers, specifically target the 75% of the rural population that lives in poverty. These communities often have little to no access to clean water. Most notably, Tata’s Tata Swach only costs around 21 dollars and can function without electricity or running water. The device is effective and sustainable, able to support a family of five for up to 200 days.
  2. Large-scale water purification: Unclean and unpurified water in India has led to the spread of cholera, diarrhea, malaria and typhoid, among others. Indeed, waterborne diseases affect more than 37 million Indian natives and kill more than 1 million children per year. The problem owes itself to fluoride contamination that disproportionately affects rural populations in the country. However, efforts of water purification on a larger scale have begun to turn the tide. Research estimates from India’s Central Bureau of Health Intelligence report that more than 85% of the country has water infrastructures in place today. Furthermore, the transmission of certain waterborne diseases has maintained a relatively similar level as in past years due in large part to such changes.
  3. Efforts to ensure water safety: India’s water supply remains largely unchecked and free of governmental oversight. Only around 30% of dirty water from Indian cities is properly treated; the rest often seeps into the ground and contaminates other groundwater sources. Fortunately, NGOs like WaterAid India have taken matters into their own hands to ensure equal access to safe water in several rural regions of the country. They have expanded into areas of Bihar, Delhi, Jal Chaupal and Jharkhand, providing each site with water testing toolkits, pond sand filters and water ATMs.

Water purification technology in India is just beginning to bloom into a concerted effort to increase standards of living and elevate rural life to a higher level. Moving forward, the work of NGOs like WaterAid India must continue; however, the government must also make water safety a priority of its efforts. This will help ensure that India is able to provide more equitable livelihoods for all its citizens in the future.

Mihir Gokhale
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

The One WaSH National ProgrammeGlobally, at least 2 billion people do not have access to clean water. The ability to access clean water supplies and sanitation is a vital aspect of a country’s development. Improved water supply and sanitation positively affect economic growth and poverty reduction as water is essential domestically and agriculturally. Furthermore, clean water and sanitation are imperative to human health. Contaminated water can cause diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid. The issue of clean water is present worldwide and demands preventative action. Thankfully, the One WaSH National Programme is here to help.

Ethiopia is one country where the water crisis needs to be addressed. Close to 33 million people in Ethiopia lack access to a safe water supply and nearly 89 million don’t have access to basic sanitation. This lack of access is responsible for 90% of diarrheal disease occurrences, which is a leading cause of child mortality in Ethiopia. To fight this, the Ethiopian government along with partners developed the One WaSH National Programme in 2013. The goal was to drastically improve access to safe water and sanitation services throughout the country.

The ONE WaSH National Programme

The One WaSH National Programme aims to improve the health and well-being of communities in rural and urban areas. Their strategy to achieve this is to increase equal and sustainable access to clean water supplies, sanitation services and good hygiene practices. As explained by the IRC, “It combines a comprehensive range of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions that include capital investments to extend first-time access to water and sanitation, as well as investments, focused on developing the enabling environment, building capacity, ensuring the sustainability of service delivery, and behavioral change. It has rural, urban, institutional WaSH and capacity building components.”

Impacts of The Programme

Phase one of The One WaSH National Programme in Ethiopia began in October 2013 and lasted till July 2017. It boasted great results. In four years, 18.7 million people gained access to water supplies and the practice of open defecation reduced from 44% to 29%. Additionally, 1,280 school WASH facilities were constructed.

The One WaSH National Programme approved its second phase in 2018. This time, the overall growth and transformation of the program was the main target for improvement. Another objective was to diminish vulnerable infrastructure in drought-prone areas in Ethiopia. Doing so would create a climate-resilient water supply system that provides the community with safe and sustainable access to water. Results for this second phase are still being collected as it was expected to run through July 2020.

The Importance of Clean Water in Poverty Reduction

Access to basic water and sanitation are vital parts to improving the economy. As such, it is essential for eradicating poverty. Many health issues faced by the poor arise because of the consumption of contaminated water. Increased availability of basic water and sanitation services can aid in general public health and assist in reducing health care costs.

The ONE WaSH National Programme has not completely satisfied their goals of extending safe water supply to 98% of the country’s rural population and 100% of city dwellers. Nevertheless, they have made many great strides toward improving sanitation services. Overall, the program has contributed significantly toward improving the standard of living within these Ethiopian communities.

The ONE WaSH National Programme and similar endeavors have the power to greatly improved the population’s access to a safe water supply and reduce poverty in Ethiopia and worldwide.

Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in CongoThe Republic of the Congo is a country located in central Africa, right next door to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo River separates the capital, Brazzaville, from the neighboring country’s capital, Kinshasa. Both cities were formerly one capital under French Equatorial territory. After the Republic of the Congo gained independence in 1960, a series of coup d’états and successive rulers from 1963-1997 lead to political and economic instability throughout the country, eventually culminating in a civil war in 1997 and ending in 2001. The inefficient political rule that followed the war exacerbated the economic devastation of the country. A dictatorial leadership under Denis Sassou Nguesso began when he became president in peace agreements formulated in 2001. The political instability in the Republic of the Congo is necessary for understanding the economic disarray throughout the population. It is also important for understanding why poverty in Congo remains rife despite international aid interventions.

What Poverty Looks Like in the Republic of the Congo

Poverty in Congo is vast and covers all areas of the country. This is mostly because the civil war displaced over one-third of the population. The return of natives to a weakened Congo led to many facing poverty and disease from poor infrastructure and government.

Rural areas are affected most out of the country, as there are many people who do not have efficient access to clean water sources or sanitation. Artesian wells or unclarified water sources account for over 20% of all water access throughout the entire country. In addition, there is little improvement in urban areas. Much of the population, almost 1.5 million, live in unplanned settlements with little sanitation procedure or adequate housing throughout the two largest cities of the country, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. This creates a difficult atmosphere to combat preventable diseases like malaria and various respiratory or parasitic diseases.

Another problem facing is the country is the lack of, and lack of access to, education. Over a third of the population never enrolled or completed primary school. Higher education has even less attendance, with only about 3% completing. This is mostly because there is a severe lack of access to basic educational materials. Also, many girls have little to no encouragement to get an education. This leaves half of the population out of school. This impacts the Republic of Congo’s human capital, which makes it harder for people to find jobs domestically or internationally. Therefore, this leads to a higher unemployment rate across the country. Lack of education leads to a lack of opportunity.

The Good News

The Republic of the Congo has been making great strides in trying to counteract its issues since 2001. It created The Future Path project with the aim of modernizing society as a whole. The plan also aims to industrialize the economy to help the Congo gain international footing. Increasing jobs and economic performance through large-scale building projects and international cooperation are the goals of the government.

The World Bank is currently assisting the Republic of the Congo with economics and societal development projects with 10 current national projects worth $451 million. The new Country Partnership Framework will help improve the Congo’s economic management, help create “economic diversification and strengthen its human capital and basic service provision, particularly in the areas of health, education and social protection.” Improvement of water sources and better sanitation is a priority of the government and also many initiatives funded by the World Bank. The World Bank is also financing $61.31 million in emergency COVID-19 funding to help combat the pandemic in the country. The current levels of poverty in Congo and the level of disease exposed to people exacerbate the issue of COVID-19.

What Needs to be Done

The overall gross national income of the country has improved by 50% since 2011. In addition, improvements in education account for 14% of poverty reduction as a direct result of improved standards of living. Educational skill gains and an uptick in the enrollment of girls in urban areas also attributed to lowering unemployment levels. This subsequently increased educational enrollment levels across the country. However, rural education slightly deteriorated. This is because the rural population with only primary or no educational achievement increased from 46% to 53%. This highlights how the government needs to focus the fight on poverty in Congo in rural areas. The government needs to focus on encouraging more students into education past the primary level. They must also reduce gender disparities in school to create a more holistic student body and future workforce.

Overall, the Republic of the Congo has been making great strides toward leveling its poverty numbers. While the current situation is not perfect, the reduction of poverty in Congo and the improved standards of living are miles away from what the country experienced in 2001.

– Avery Benton
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Engineers Without Borders
Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is a foundation that partners with poor communities to help provide them with basic human needs. Its mission is to build a better world with engineering projects that will help solve the world’s most urgent problems. It builds to save lives.

Building Safe Structures

Many people are without a home in poverty-ridden countries, often living without so much as clean water or electricity. Due to environmental disasters, forced refugees and internally displaced people, many must roam the streets. Back in 2015, estimates determined that there were 100 million people facing homelessness. The need for durable and permanent refugee camps and homes is more pressing than ever. This is where EWB-USA saves the day. It addresses the challenges in engineering associated with “transitioning emergency infrastructure to more permanent systems,” which helps boost host communities who take refugees in.

Engineers Without Borders often takes on villages’ needs for bridges to aid in safer and easier travel. It found that one Guatemalan village had to walk three hours on dangerous mountain roads just to reach the capital. Access to capitals or bigger towns can be dire as they encapsulate hospitals, schools, markets and so forth. So, the Engineers Without Borders project team and volunteers decided to create bridges for these communities. The foundation takes up to several weeks to construct these bridges to make sure they are sturdy, safe and dependable for these villagers.

Engineers Without Borders also discovered the need for schools. It found out that a native Guatemalan girl had biked over an hour to reach her school. As a result, the foundation started building schools and improving the schools’ infrastructures, making them safe and durable. It has brought education to places like Guatemala, Lat Cantun II, Santa Eulalia and more.

Installing Solar Panels

Electricity is a luxury that not many homeless or poor people get. However, it is a necessity for the safety and well-being of many people. This is why EWB-USA not only makes solar panels for villages in need but also introduces and installs them. The solar panels bring hot water, better food storage, increased phone access and light to homes and schools alike. Engineers Without Borders also installs solar street lights to help keep the residents and refugees safe.

University students in EWB-USA even built a solar charging station for villages. These stations could be used by all, specifically to charge phones. It found that cell phones were extremely important for youths to apply for jobs, apply for housing and communicate with friends and family.

Engineers Without Borders helps bring electricity to these areas by partnering with foundations like IKEA and UNHRC. Its partnerships have been a key way to faster and more efficient help for these communities. Currently, Engineers Without Borders is working on over 55 projects located in more than 20 states and two territories, trying to make a difference.

Providing Clean Water

Clean water is yet another widely inaccessible luxury in many poverty-stricken countries. In Uganda alone, over 23 million people must walk over 30 minutes a day to get water that is often contaminated, bringing disease and even death. Engineers Without Borders saw how water brings life and found creative ways of providing clean water for villages. The foundation has dug and repaired wells, built rainwater catchment systems and constructed water filters. Additionally, it has built gravity-based water supply systems in phases for those in the mountains.

In Cyanika, Rwanda, the villagers benefited from one of the Engineers Without Borders’ creative rainwater catchment systems that consisted of two single tank systems. It allows the villagers to save time as well as their lives. One villager even sent a letter of thanks, expressing their gratitude as it bettered many lives, health and well-being of all the villagers.

Engineers Without Borders continues to fight to provide people their basic rights and needs. It continues to live up to its mission of building to save lives through the power of engineering. For more information about this organization, check out its website.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Pixabay

saltwater into clean drinking waterAccess to clean drinking water is a major issue that continues to affect individuals around the world. Further, an estimated 35% of the entire world population lacks access to “improved sanitation,” for which, access to water (generally speaking) is imperative. The CDC estimates that more than 700 million people live without direct access to an “improved water source,” which includes drinking water, proper household plumbing and wells. As of 2018, new solar-powered technology can now supply individuals with direct access to drinkable water by transforming saltwater into clean drinking water. Innovative technology, it seems, may play a pivotal role in helping to solve yet another global challenge.

GivePower & Solar-Powered Technology

GivePower is an innovative nonprofit behind solar, saltwater farms. Comprised of 20-foot-tall containers and accompanied by solar-powered panels and water pumps, these farms are designed to supply deficient countries with safe, drinkable water. The containers hold 75,000 liters of saltwater, every day. Through clean solar energy, this saltwater is converted into safe drinking water and delivered to surrounding villages. Such technology is relatively new, as saltwater is difficult to convert into freshwater. This is due to its makeup and strong chemical bonds. Therefore, saltwater’s conversion into clean water takes a large amount of energy and money to fund. GivePower, however, can cut the costs by using solar energy to powers its saltwater farms.

In 2018, GivePower built its first saltwater farm in Kiunga, Kenya. An extreme drought had caused Kiunga to experience a major shortage of potable water for cleaning, drinking and cooking. At this time, the city’s only source of water came from saltwater from the Indian Ocean. Individuals living in Kiunga would often contract harmful diseases due to this lack of clean water. GivePower acknowledged this issue and intervened by using its technology to convert the abundance of saltwater into safe, usable water. Not only does the saltwater filtration technology provide more water than typical wells — but it also has a lower impact on the environment through the use of renewable, solar energy.

A Global Impact

This technology has helped to address the water crisis in other countries as well. In many developing countries, it is common to have an abundance of saltwater and a lack of clean water. Due to its high sodium content, individuals consuming large amounts of this saltwater can become very sick. Waterborne diseases such as Vibrio and E. coli can contaminate saltwater, causing severe symptoms and in extreme cases, death. By turning contaminated saltwater into clean drinking water, many communities cannot only increase the availability of clean water but decrease the prevalence of waterborne diseases as well.

Through the innovative technology of GivePower, over 19,000 gallons of safe drinking water has been provided to 25,000 individuals per day within the Kiunga community. Although the company started in Kenya, GivePower has already extended to communities around the world by supplying over 2,000 solar-powered systems to schools, villages and facilities in need of freshwater.

The Path Ahead

As GivePower and other organizations continue to develop technology to turn saltwater into clean drinking water — thousands of individuals around the world can obtain direct access to safe water.

– Olivia Eaker
Photo: Google Images

apps improving access to clean waterThe United Nation’s sixth Sustainable Development Goal is devoted to enhancing clean water and sanitation. Specifically, it calls for equitable access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation for all by 2030. However, nearly one-third of the global population lacks access to clean drinking water. Some companies are making solutions to this problem in the form of apps improving access to clean water.

The Problem

The World Health Organization defines safe water as 20 liters per person per day of accessible, clean drinking water within one kilometer of a household or business. Without safe water, families must spend more time caring for sick loved ones and fetching water from far-away sources. This often prevents them from joining the workforce and earning an income. Businesses and schools that are unable to provide safe water often struggle to retain staff and students. Overall, communities without safe water are more susceptible to illnesses and destruction from natural disasters. Indeed, diarrheal diseases stemming from unsafe water usage and poor sanitation kills nearly 1,000 children per day.

Thankfully, technological innovation for accessing clean water is on the rise. New technological solutions range from fog-to-water conversion systems to easy-to-use water filters. Below are three apps improving access to clean water by collecting, harnessing and sharing important water systems data around the world.

mWater

John Feighery, a former NASA employee, and his wife Annie Feighery created mWater in the mid-2000s for Android devices. After working for a company testing well water in El Salvador, Mr. Feighery learned that the process of testing for clean water was cumbersome and expensive. He collected samples with heavy machinery, transported them to a far-away lab for testing and recorded locations by hand. Mr. Feighery decided he could simplify the process using technology he used with the International Space Station.

He and his wife created mWater, which records the results and precise locations of water quality tests on a mobile device. Anyone with the app can view the data. Users can add pictures and write notes on scent and appearance. Additionally, they can add data from new tests they’ve conducted using the $10 water testing kit available from the app.

With its global water quality database and expedited process of identifying safe water, mWater is one of the most comprehensive apps improving access to clean water. Today, more than 75,000 governments, NGOs, health workers and researchers use mWater for free in 180 countries. They include UN-Habitat, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and The Water Project. Altogether, mWater receives and records 250,000 water surveys per month for public use.

Akvo Flow

One of the few apps improving access to clean water is Akvo Flow. Peter van der Linde and Jeroen van der Sommen founded Akvo Flow after meeting at the World Water Week conference, in Stockholm. They wanted to improve the way that water quality data was presented via open-source technology. This allows governments and organizations to better address the issue of finding safe water. Akvo works with users to design projects, capture meaningful data, understand the data and act to improve conditions. To date, Akvo has implemented software in 70 countries by working with more than 20 governments and 200 organizations.

It aims to increase accountability, transparency and productivity for each partner organizations. Akvo Flow does this by streamlining the data collection process, which allows for quicker decision making. Some of its partnerships include setting up a sanitation monitoring system in Mauritania and working with Water for People in Peru to design solutions. Additionally, it works with UNICEF and the Ministry of Water Resources to test water quality nationwide in Sierra Leone.

Open Water Data

As the name suggests, Open Water Data makes water data available to the public. Founded in 2017 by a group of software engineers and data scientists from Datameet, Open Water Data only applies to India, where it is based. Extreme flooding followed by water-source depletion in India led the group to question the country’s water management systems. They found that the public is unable to access much of India’s water data, despite the fact that local governments need extensive data to implement water management systems.

In response, the founders created an easy-to-use map-based web app with available data from Google’s Earth Engine. It includes datasets from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Now, the app is one of a few improving access to clean water. It is a one-stop-shop for information on daily rainfall, soil moisture, groundwater and reservoir shortages. Researchers and local governments can create simple models in water-scarce regions and plan for flood mitigation using Open Water Data’s tools. Additionally, plans are in place to create a database that all parties can contribute to.

The Future of Apps Improving Access to Clean Water

In July 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern about the progress of Sustainable Development Goal 6. Specifically, he cited climate change, pollution and increasing demand as obstacles. If clean water and sanitation remain problems in 2030, global health, education and climate change will suffer. These apps improving access to clean water through data management are just one way that technology can crowdsource solutions to the global water crisis.

McKenna Black
Photo: Flickr