Access to clean drinking water is a worldwide problem. One billion people, or roughly 1 in 7 persons across the globe, lack access to safe water. Without potable water, these millions of people are exposed to waterborne pathogens that can cause sickness and death. Each year, waterborne pathogens make tens of millions of people sick and lead to 1.8 million deaths. And all of these are preventable.

Researchers are working on cheap and practical ways to provide safe drinking water across the globe. Ramakrishna Mallampati, an investigator at the National University of Singapore, has devised a new way to purify dirty water. By using the peels of fruits and vegetables, Mallampati believes that he can effectively and economically filter out impurities from water to make it safe to drink.

The fruits and vegetables are used to purify dirty water by drawing out toxic ions and organic pollutants from liquid. Tomato peels effectively remove “dissolved organic and inorganic chemicals, dyes and pesticides, and…can also be used in large scare applications.” Tomatoes are the second most consumed vegetable in the world. With the vegetable’s widespread availability, using tomato peels to purify water could prove to be a convenient, easy, and cheap way to purify drinking water.

Like tomato peels, apple peels are also able to draw out a number of pollutants from dirty water. The peels can extract anions such as “phosphate, arsenate, arsenite, and chromate ions from aqueous solutions.” While the apple peels must first be treated with a zirconium oxide before they can effectively remove impurities from water, the wide prevalence of the fruit throughout the world means that it could also be used to treat drinking water on a large scale.

The newly designed water purification methods could prove revolutionary in the developing world. Many large scale treatment processes used in developed nations are simply inaccessible to the impoverished across the globe due to a lack of the financial capital needed to implement them. The process of purifying water by using tomato and apple peels mitigates the financial obstacle that prevents many in the developed world from having clean drinking water. Ramakrishna Mallampati hopes that by using his new purification process, those living in developing areas will be able to live healthier and more productive lives.

– Jordan Kline

Sources: ScienceDaily, Care2, National Academy of Sciences
Photo: She Knows

Problem of Safe Drinking Water for Refugees

Drinking water is a major problem for many parts of Africa, particularly in refugee camps, where minimal living conditions make it difficult to secure safe drinking water. The recommended minimum amount of water a person needs in an emergency situation is 15 liters a day. In Ab Gadam, a refugee camp in southeast Chad, UNHCR struggles to provide refugees with 10 liters per person per day. Currently, in Ab Gadam the drinking water is filtered from a nearby lake, however, when the rain comes, this source of water will be cut off. UNHCR is trying to find new solutions to be able to meet this challenge.

“It is really serious…we need to increase the supply – and that is what we are working on,” said Dominique Porteaud, UNHCR’s senior water and sanitation officer. He made it clear that if a solution was not found people would turn to alternative, unsafe ways of obtaining water that could lead to disease.

Zenab, a refugee living in Ad Gadam with five children, knows all too well the effect unsanitary water can have. After having to flee their village in the troubled West Darfur region, she and her family spent weeks in the border area. While there they dug small holes in the ground to find drinking water. This drinking water was not filtered and caused Zenab’s two-year-old son Ali to get sick. After entering the Ad Gadam camp, Ali is still sick but is now receiving treatment.

As the rain season quickly approaches UNHCR has been looking at several different approaches to supply safe drinking water to the refugees of Ad Gadam. Some of these measures include increasing the number and size of water storage tanks and continuing the search for productive boreholes.

UNHCR has already developed a water treatment plant, which chemically sanitizes water brought in from the nearby lake. The plant can produce enough clean water to supply refugees with 10.5 liters per day, which is still short of the minimum recommended. Refugees have also begun to find their own source of clean drinking water. Zenab and her family collect rainwater that they use to clean clothes, pots and pans, and bathe.

To inform people about the dangers of unsafe drinking water, UNHCR has begun to run awareness programs that stress the importance of clean water, sanitation and hygiene. “It is important that everybody, including the children, know about the best use of water and the dangers of drinking dirty water,” says Barka Mahamat Barka, a UNHCR water and sanitation expert.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: UNHCR, UN
Photo: Contribute

Friday, March 22, 2013 is World Water Day. This year’s World Water Day is especially important because the UN has designated 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation. Those new to water rights issues may wonder: what is water cooperation? Why have a year dedicated to water cooperation? This post will address some of the most important points about international water cooperation.

According to UN-Water:

1. The International Year of Water Cooperation aims to: raise awareness of water cooperation, initiate innovative action toward water cooperation, foster dialogue about water as a top international priority, and address water-related development goals for beyond 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals expire.

2. Water cooperation is: cooperation between all parties involved in water management. If one party does not cooperate, efficiency of water management decreases, to the detriment of human lives. Water cooperation happens on local, national, and international levels. Vital water sources such as rivers and ground water extend across political boundaries; cooperation is needed to share these resources. Building a village well or pumping water for irrigation requires the cooperation of separate parties, often with conflicting interests.

3. Water cooperation is essential because: without water cooperation, progress is impossible in other areas of human development such as food security, gender equality, and poverty reduction. Improving water access is key to reducing poverty, especially for women and children. Water cooperation creates economic benefits, and is necessary for preserving and protecting the natural environment. Life on earth depends on water; we are responsible for managing it sustainably and effectively.

4. Challenges to water cooperation are: reaching across social, political, and economic boundaries. Those involved in water management and policy-making must work with a broad range of stakeholders, local residents, governments, and NGOs. In these situations, cooperation and cultural understanding are essential for effective communication and decision-making. Water cooperation is further complicated by the increasing water needs of a growing population. Urbanization, pollution and climate change continue to threaten water resources, placing them under even greater pressure.

5. There are endless ways you can get involved with water cooperation efforts: educate yourself and others about water rights, impediments to water access, and water cooperation efforts. Engage others in your community to advocate for sustainable water management. Click here for more about how to get involved in World Water Day and the International Year of Water Cooperation!

– Kat Henrichs
Source: UN-Water
Photo:Tree Hugger

Is water a commodity or a human right? Too many people, governments, and institutions see water as something merely to be bought and sold, and not as something every person on earth needs for survival. Like food, health care, educational and economic opportunities, and many of the other things we write about on the blog, safe water is a human right and necessity.

Since 1993, the UN has designated March 22 as World Water Day. World Water Day serves to bring attention to, advocate for sustainable management of, and celebrate clean, fresh water.

2013 has also been designated the International Year of Water Cooperation, so this year’s World Water Day holds special significance. Events will be held across the globe to foster international cooperation around water. Because of the organization’s interdisciplinary approach to world problems, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will coordinate World Water Day on behalf of UN-Water.

World Water Day serves many purposes, including raising public awareness of water issues facing the globe and advocating for improvements in water management. Access to clean, safe drinking water is a major health concern among the world’s poorest populations. 88 percent of cases of diarrhea, the number one cause of death and illness in the world, are due to a lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Almost a billion people do not have access to improved water sources, while 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation facilities.

While the statistics are disturbing, we can do something to improve these conditions. World Water Day is an opportunity to learn about water issues and take action on behalf of those whose basic water needs are not being met. To learn more about World Water Day 2013 and the International Year of Water Cooperation, visit the UN’s World Water Day page.

– Kat Henrichs
Source: UN-Water