Over 840,000 people around the world die each year of causes linked to contaminated water, and one company is working to change that — one straw at a time.
MINNEAPOLIS — Every single region on the planet is facing increasingly insurmountable problems affecting water safety and security. Even in the United States, state officials in North Carolina have warned residents in certain communities that the well water is unsafe for drinking and cooking, and fracking chemicals have been found in water near the boreholes used to extract gases in Pennsylvania.
Water insecurity stretches across large swathes of Africa, Central Asia, and parts of South America and Europe. According to UN-Water, an inter-agency mechanism of the United Nations, 85 percent of the world’s population lives in an area of high water scarcity. Meanwhile, “783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.”
Every year, more than 840,000 die from causes linked to contaminated water.
However, solutions to the problem of unhealthy water in both developed and underdeveloped countries do exist.
One such solution is the LifeStraw, a filter system that purifies contaminated water. It is used by people in communities that do not have access to clean drinking water, and others use it during climbing and hiking adventures.
The system employs a number of different filters which allow users to purify water using devices that function like straws, water bottles, or water coolers with high and low volumes of water. The LifeStraw is manufactured by Vestergaard, an international company dedicated to improving the health of vulnerable populations. The company also manufactures insect nets that slowing release insecticide, insecticide screens to protect livestock, storage bags with an insecticide that stops pests without impacting food safety, and care packs for disease and health programs.
LifeStraw devices were deployed in Nepal following the April 25 earthquake, which claimed almost 8,000 lives and injured 17,000 others.
A recent case study in rural Ghana revealed that simple technologies, such as the LifeStraw and ceramic clay pots, offer the best solutions to sheltering affected populations from protozoans and other microorganisms that can cause health problems. The study looked at a number of methods for water treatment and factors involved, including cost, environmental impacts, effectiveness, energy consumption, and the amount of waste generated.
The device was awarded the best invention of the year in 2005 by Time magazine, and has been recognized by numerous other publications, including Popular Science, The New York Times and Newsweek.
Despite international acclaim regarding the utility of the LifeStraw system, the South African Medical Journal reports that the device is being ignored in South African communities that need it most. Chris Bateman, news editor for the Health and Medical Group in South Africa, reported that the technology had been employed by an NGO in a crèche in Masiphumelele township in Cape Town with 106 children, 34 of which have HIV or AIDS, and diarrhea almost completely disappeared.