Oct 182006
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Nearly 6,000 people, most of whom are children, die each day from waterborne diseases. In developing countries alone, it has been estimated that a lack of clean water supplies is responsible for causing four-fifths of all illnesses.

These facts, while astounding, should not be surprising considering the adverse conditions which preclude most people in developing countries from securing the basic needs essential for leading a qualitatively meaningful life. Basic needs that we often take for granted in developed countries, such as access to safe water supplies, food, shelter and sanitation, are precisely the needs not being met for most of the world’s population.

Water contamination is an acute problem in developing countries, where water sources are often miles away and used by humans and animals alike for drinking and bathing. This collective use of water for distinct purposes is the source of waterborne diseases, which are commonly spread through the admission of pathogen-carrying fecal matter into water supplies.

As a result of exposure to contaminated water supplies, people increasingly run the risk of being inflicted with debilitating ailments such as anemia, cholera, malaria, schistosomes, arsenicosis, lead poisoning, and diarrhea – the leading cause of childhood death in developing countries.

Obviously, waterborne diseases pose a formidable challenge to human survival – especially when, as the BBC reports, one in six people living in developing countries do not have access to safe drinking supplies.

A lack of clean water supplies is also an obstacle for realizing economic development. Consider the findings of Lenntech, a water technology supplier, that “as one of the major public health problems in tropical countries, it has been claimed that malaria has reduced economic growth in African countries by 1.3 % each year over the past 30 years.”

However, hope is on the way – and, best of all, it only costs $3. Vestergaard Frandsen, a Danish-founded company that responding quickly to global emergences and producing innovative ways to combating diseases, has devised what is called LifeStraw.

As described by the New York Times, LifeStraw is “a plastic tube with seven filters: graduated meshes with holes as fine as 6 microns (a human hair is 50 to 100 microns in diameter), followed by resin impregnated with iodine and another of activated carbon.”

In layman’s terms, LifeStraw is a flute-like apparatus used as a straw to filter out bacteria and parasites in water, while also giving water a better aftertaste. LifeStraw has been found effective enough that one could even use it to drink water from the notoriously polluted Thames.

Although it is a highly sophisticated device, it is priced at only $3. LifeStraw can last up to a year, making 185 gallons of water clean enough to drink. It is no wonder that it was hailed by Time magazine as one of 2005’s best innovations in the health sector.

While only about 100,000 LifeStraws have been handed out, including 70,000 last year to victims of the earthquake in Kashmir, the inventors of LifeStraw are confident that it will help achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by half by the year 2015. More testing is required, however.

It’s inventions like these that reinforce my belief and optimism that increasing the living conditions of others in our global community is not only possible, but could even be made easy. With a little bit of passion and “Imagineering” the realm of possibilities is endless.

Luci Storelli-Castro is a junior political science and philosophy major. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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