By JASCHA HOFFMAN
More than a billion people don’t have reliable access to clean drinking water. Boiling kills most germs in water, but requires fuel and doesn’t remove dirt. In recent years, sand and ceramic filters have become more common, but these tend to be more expensive and usually don’t catch all the microbes.
So many of the poor worldwide simply drink dirty water. As a result, about 1.5 million children die of diarrhea each year.
A new generation of cheap and effective water purifiers including Pureit (made by Unilever) and Swach (made by an Indian company, Tata, with a novel rice-husk ash filter) can remove nearly all water-borne pathogens without electricity.
But LifeStraw, produced by the Swiss company Vestergaard Frandsen, was designed for the poorest of the poor. The personal version works like a chunky drinking straw and can filter about 1,000 liters, enough to keep a person hydrated for a year. The family version — which looks something like an IV drip that ends in a water cannon — can purify 18,000 liters, serving a typical family for about three years.
Until now these filters have mainly been given away through aid groups aftersuch disasters like the Haitian earthquake and in chronically poor countries like Mozambique and Myanmar. Nearly a million of the family-size LifeStraw have been donated in Kenya alone this year. In exchange, the company will receive carbon credits for reduced emissions from wood-burning fires often used to boil water.
The personal LifeStraw entered the market as a consumer product last week in North America, and a new version of the family purifier will be sold next year in India.
Meanwhile, LifeStraw creators are working on something that might be considered designer water for the poor: a filter that dispenses clean water fortified with zinc.