About 12 years ago I was traveling through Mexico City enjoying the sights and trying to soak in the local culture. Since this was my first trip ‘south of the border’ (so to speak) I remember surveying the place with a keen eye. I also remember the one sight that struck me like a lead weight. In fact, that sight has stayed with me, even until today. It was in the suburbs of Mexico City at that time that I saw an epidemic of people stretched out in the streets in the obvious throes of terrible disease. When I asked several of my travel mates what exactly was the cause of this epidemic they told me that it was ‘water sickness’ and that it was a common occurrence throughout the country. Later on I learned the fundamental cause of this disease which shocked me almost as much as the sight of its victims: a lack of access to clean water.
Now there’s no doubt that I’ve been blessed in my life, but I have to admit that up until that time I, along with most of you I’ll venture, had taken clean water for granted. I mean if I wanted clean water it was never as far away as the nearest faucet.
However, not everyone is so blessed. The things that many of us take for granted are exactly the things that we should be most thankful for. For instance, if you don’t have to worry on a daily basis about where you will get the food to feed your children on that particular day, you are already in a better position than 33% of the world’s population. And, as I learned, if you have never suffered from thirst because of a lack access to clean water, then you are more blessed than roughly 1 Billion other people in the World.
Think about it: in the year 2013, 1 Billion people translates to roughly one out of every eight human beings around the globe who don’t even have access to clean water. And yet, you and I drink as much as we want every day, bathe for as long as we want, as many times as we want every single day. We water our plants, go to swimming pools for recreational purposes, even put decorative fountains in our front yards just because we like the way it looks.
A few hard – and sobering – facts from the World Health Organization:
- Of the 1 Billion people that lack access to clean water, 3.5 million will die this year from a water-related disease
- 1.5 million of those deaths will be among children under the age of five.
- 98% of all those deaths will occur in the developing third world.
At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. A major contributing factor is that 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged into rivers, lakes and coastal areas without first being treated. And the problem generally perpetuates itself.
A community water crisis leaves a far greater impact on the community than just the absence of clean, usable water which, of course, is devastating in and of itself. Women and children are forced to spend hours every day in the pursuit of that basic need with little room for anything else. Children are neglected, things like studying and personal development are thrown by the wayside and basic notions of human kindness are forgotten. In fact, the health of the entire community is put at risk when a staple as basic as clean water is removed from the picture.
What’s even worse is that in many of these third-world countries water, like other natural resources, is viewed as a strategic commodity that can be horded and traded for political significance. As one might expect of third world regimes, the ability to control the available water supply is used as leverage to keep the people in check.
Of course there are a host of international organizations dedicated to helping provide solutions for access to safe drinking water and the work they do saves countless lives. But according to Water.org over 50% of water projects worldwide fail. Less than 5% of the projects are ever revisited and less than 1% of completed water projects are ever monitored for any length of time so that if they break down at any given point they are rarely reinstated.
This is the part where I’d like to be able to say that I immediately ran out, enlisted the help of my friends and came up with a super awesome technology to purify water supplies in every third world country on the map. In fact, it took 12 years and the support of my close friend and business partner, Moshe Moalem, to address the issue in any meaningful way.
Having spent much time in Africa among third world populations, Moshe quickly impressed upon me that if we wanted to really make a difference, we needed to target individual households, and not public agencies. His reasoning was spot on. Individual households and not government agencies account for the largest investment in basic sanitation needs on a 10:1 ratio.
The idea is simple and at the same time completely effective. We use ultraviolet waves commonly found in LED lighting to kill bacteria and other impurities by means of a hand operated UV water purification system for home use. The beauty of the system is that it is stand alone and is targeted for use in locations that have no access to electricity or running water.
The system is operated by manual spinning of a crank handle generating the kinetic energy for operating a water pump and power generator
The system is a portable and can be used both at home before consuming collected or stored water while, at the same time, being economical, long lasting and maintenance-free.
We have already begun to cultivate the necessary ‘supply chains’ needed to get our life-saving water systems into the hands of those who will most benefit. As you might imagine, every day provides newer and greater challenges. But in the end every day also brings us a bit closer to reaching those most in need.
Read Ran's posts on innovation, society, and the world at large.