Straws of Life: A Global Solution

We take for granted the fact that we live in a country that provides easily attainable clean drinking water. Water fountains provide tap water that has been purified of disease-causing bacteria and are widely available and accessible to the public. Clean drinking water has evolved into an expectation for us; it is now considered a basic human right to have access to improved sources of drinking water.

Sadly, this is not the case for underdeveloped countries.

Worldwide, 783 million people drink water that is unclean and unsafe [2].

RTEmagicC_739px-Mwamongu_water_sourceThese unsanitary conditions, usually typical for third world countries, can be deadly. It is estimated that up to 4,000 children die every day from diarrheal disease and other illnesses caused by unclean drinking water [1][2]. Most of these countries don’t have the infrastructure to provide clean water, or any other form of residential energy, for the public. Africa is in real trouble: “Of the 25 nations in the world with the greatest percentage of people lacking access to safe drinking water, 19 are in Africa” [3].

The main cause for lack of clean water is simple lack of power. Impoverished countries don’t have the energy (or money) to construct and operate water treatment facilities. Having said that, necessity is the mother of invention; in 2005, the swiss-based company Vestergaard Frandsen found a solution: It’s called LifeStraw. [4]

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The LifeStraw is a handheld straw-like device that allows the user to filter water as they drink it.lifestraw-a-diagram

When a user sucks on the top of the straw, water is pulled through hollow fibers with pores 0.2 microns in length. These small pores trap any bacteria, parasites, or impurities in the water as it flows up to the user’s mouth [6]. It’s a relatively simple strategy, and is fairly effective. It removes 99.9% of bacteria and parasites from the water. One of these straws can last for 1,000 liters; this is equivalent to sustain one grown human with drinking water for a year [5].

While this device seems like a life saver, it has some limitations. Firstly, it is unable to filter out chemicals and water-borne viruses. However, the main issue is with the cost of the item. While only $6.50 per personal LifeStraw, citizens of impoverished nations still can’t afford them [1].

Again, Vestergaard came up with a solution to that problem: they donated LifeStraws to over 4.5 million Kenyans.  LifeStraws help users to bypass burning wood to boil water, which helps Vestergaard earn carbon credits. The company can then sell these credits to other companies who need to offset their carbon emissions [1]. In this way, Vestergaard can save lives while the pollutant companies pay for it.

Some people are upset with Vestergaard’s philanthropic move on the basis that the public image covers up the profit that they are actually making [1]. But I’m pretty sure the Kenyans aren’t complaining, and no one can argue against the value of lives saved.

lifestraw[4]

References:

[1] Barksdale, Martha, and Kate Kershner. “How LifeStraw Works.” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

[2] “Clean Water Campaign.” Clean Drinking Water. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

[3] David, Michael,, David,, and Caroline. “Africa.” ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation, n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

[4] “LifeStraw FAQ.” Waterforlifestraw.co.uk. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

[5] “LifeStraw Frequently Asked Questions.” LifeStraw Frequently Asked Questions. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

[6] “LifeStraw.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Feb. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.

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