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Four socially-inclusive innovations aimed at promoting access to drinking water in developing countries


Innovations relating to water are not solely due to the research laboratories of the most prestigious universities or those of large industrial groups. Proof of this is provided by four solutions backed by NGOs or socially-inclusive firms that are concerned about improving access to drinking water and sanitation facilities for people in developing countries.

A “drinkable book”

Credit : Brian Gartside

The Water is Life NGO and US university researchers have developed a unique filtration system that is available to everyone in the form of a book . Once it has been torn out and placed in a rectangular box, every page becomes a filter that is capable of providing drinking water thanks to paper covered by silver or copper nano-particles where the ions eliminate the bacteria present in typhoid, cholera, and other waterborne diseases. According to the NGO, the pages of each book, which costs around one US dollar, can purify the water required by one person for a period of four years. Aside from its chemical capabilities, this “Drinkable Book”, which is expected to be translated into around 30 languages, also has an educational purpose. To be specific, the project plans to print advice and prevention rules on every page, using food-grade ink.

Water produced from human waste

For the purposes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates himself did not hesitate to act as a water taster in order to promote the Omniprocessor, a drinking water production appliance that is as innovative as it is promising. This machine, which was developed by Janicki Bioenergy, a US environmental engineering company based in Seattle, is capable of turning human excrement into water. Once it has been extracted from drains, the waste is burned in order to dry it. The steam generated is recovered in order to be turned into water, which is then cleaned and filtered to be made fit for consumption. The combustion process also generates energy that can be turned into electricity in order to supply the machine, and for redistribution via the local network. Lastly, the residue, which is in the form of ash, can be used as fertiliser for farming. For Bill Gates, who appears in a video drinking a glass of water that has come straight out of the Omniprocessor , this innovation represents a future solution for improving access to drinking water in developing countries. The machine operates on a stand-alone basis, and is capable of producing up to 86,000 litres of water every day using the waste generated by 100,000 people, according to its designers.

WaterWheel: drinking water becomes portable

Credit : Wello

The clichéd image of a woman or a child carrying water containers on their head or their back over long distances symbolises the problems in accessing drinking water that affect Africa and Asia in a nutshell. While waiting for a hypothetical ramp-up in genuine public water supply networks, Wello, a socially inclusive US company, has developed the WaterWheel , an innovation that could make daily life easier for many remote communities who live far from a water access point. The idea is simple, but you just had to think of it… The WaterWheel is a plastic container in the form of a wheel. Once you have filled it up and resealed it, all you need to do is incline it on its axis and then pull it using ropes in order to roll it along easily. The wheel, which has a capacity of 45 litres, and weighs 45 kg when fully loaded (i.e. five of our mineral water packs), enables between two to five times more water to be transported on average than via traditional carrying methods.

Smartphones aimed at improving the management of water and sanitation networks

Mobile telephony in developing countries can be an effective driver for improving the management of water supply and sanitation facilities. Akvo, a company that specialises in the design of free software aimed at serving development and humanitarian initiatives, has taken a gamble based on this theory. For instance, working together with UNICEF and the Ethiopian Government, Akvo has rolled out 220 smartphones configured with the “Akvo Flow ” tool in one of the country’s least densely populated regions. This application, which is very simple to use, has enabled Government and UNICEF employees to gather and then forward data on water supply infrastructure, the inhabitants’ sanitary facilities, or the sanitation facilities spread across the region, in order to draw up an accurate inventory. The main benefit of this solution primarily resides in the reliability of the data gathered (GPS coordinates, for example) which turns out to be of a much higher quality than those set down on paper up until now. Once the inventory and the map have been drawn up, Akvo Flow provides a large amount of analytical information, and enables the facilities’ performance to be monitored over time, as further information is gathered. Another advantage of the tool, especially in the most remote regions, is the fact that its use in the field does not require a real-time connection, as the data can be downloaded at a later stage.

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