Wiping Out the World’s Biggest Killer
By Kristal Roberts
Water is an essential component of life, so it’s a good thing that 70 percent of the world is made of water. But did you know that only 2.5 percent of that water is considered drinkable?
Outside of that small percentage, the majority of water available to people is subject to contamination from disease-causing organisms. Polio, malaria, cholera, and diarrhea are among the most common water-borne diseases that affect people who consume contaminated water.
In fact, a 2009 World Health Organization (WHO) report found that water-borne illnesses were the leading cause of death around the world, with 3.4 million deaths per year. About 4,000 children die every day because they’ve ingested unsanitary water.
Fortunately, advancements in water cleaning technology and growing access are providing clean water to a growing number of people around the world who need it the most.
Global Impact of Clean Water
Karezak is a small Afghani village comprised of about 380 families. They are living testimonies to the difference clean water makes. According to Worldbank.org, the residents have experienced a significant decline of illness from water-borne diseases. All of this is a result of piping water to homes from a recently built standard water supply system.
Before the system was built, villagers used canal water which was often contaminated with bacteria and parasites, particularly during the warmer months. Today, families say that there is far less sickness in their homes now that they drink, cook with and bathe in clean water.
While access to clean water continues to grow, 29 percent of the world’s population (2.1 billion people) still lack safe drinking water, and this is not just limited to developing nations and remote parts of the world.
In the United States, Flint, Michigan residents have suffered from a number of lethal outbreaks of pneumonia and legionnaire disease since the Flint water crisis began in 2014.
Advanced Water Filtration Systems
The good news is that there are a growing number of solutions for water purification.
Australian scientists have created a groundbreaking water filtration technology, according to Science Daily report published in March.
It’s made with graphene, a very thin version of carbon. Graphite is converted into graphene oxide membranes, which allows high water flow while simultaneously removing pollutants.
The graphene-based laboratory scale filter can remove 99 percent of natural organic matter from that’s usually left behind during conventional water treatment.
The treatment was researched and tested in conjunction with Sydney Water.
Dr. Rakesh Joshi from the UNSW School of Materials Science and Engineering said this technology can be used to enhance conventional water treatment.
“Our results indicate that graphene-based membranes could be converted into an alternative new option that could in the future be retrofitted in conventional water treatment plants,” he said.
Another advancement in the world of water purification is Direct Contact Membrane Distillation (DCMD). Created by Kamalesh Sirkar, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, his system makes ocean water drinkable.
The warmed seawater moves across a plastic membrane filled with hollow tubes. The tubes contain distilled water and tiny pores which can be penetrated by water vapor- but it won’t absorb the salt. The vapor is diffused and turned into liquid water.
Sirkar’s system can turn 26 gallons of seawater into 21 gallons of fresh drinking water, that’s about twice of what the existing desalination (desalting) technology can make.
For travelers visiting locations that are known to have issues with water contamination, a handheld device called the SteriPEN offers immediate sterilization for water. You essentially dip the device in the water for 90 seconds, and you’ve got clean water. It works by using ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms that cause disease.
These are just a few of the many technological developments working to provide clean drinking water to people around the world. While a growing number of people around the world are gaining access to clean water, there are far too many people who still need this basic human necessity.
But the future looks bright (and clear).