Sharing expertise in an increasingly unstable world
It’s a sad fact the that the first two months of the 21st Century have not heralded a new dawn, but have ushered in stormy weather - both literally and metaphorically. Shifting land masses have brought death and destruction in Gujarat and El Salvador. Mozambique is once again struggling for survival against the floodwaters of the mighty Zambezi river, and across the world political tensions and instabilities continue to make headlines.Against this backdrop it is heartening, therefore, to see examples of cooperation and shared expertise such as in the countries around the Baltic Sea, working together under banners such as the ‘Coalition Clean Baltic’. The work they are doing has applications beyond Europe – Africa’s Lake Victoria has problems which closely mirror those of the Baltic, and an holistic or catchment area approach is being used there too to address environmental degradation.
Back in Europe, the new EU Water Framework Directive which extends river basin management from source to all Europe’s seas will also push countries forward in terms of developing cross-boundary and cross-political management models.
However, as a new French report indicates, there are widespread disparities between member-states in terms of investment in wastewater treatment. As more countries queue to join the EU these disparities are likely to grow. The European Commission has already warned that the system of regional aid - sums fixed until 2006 - will need to be radically restructured to stop the growing gulf between rich and poor.
The Baltic area is a stark example of this polarisation between east and west. Particularly interesting is Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, both in the queue for the EU. Kaliningrad would like to see itself as the ‘Hong Kong of the Baltic’ but it suffers from, and creates, widespread pollution via its crumbling sewage and water treatment systems.
Crises can and often do stimulate innovation - advances in computer software and telecommunications are examples featured in this issue.
But it’s the lightweight, portable water purifier which can be flown out in hours to natural disaster or war zones that has caught my eye.
Last year, retired UN water engineer Ron Hire was working in flood-stricken Mozambique. ‘Relief organisations were flying in bottled water at a cost of about $1.5 per litre - but they were standing knee-deep in water,’ he says.
Using existing technology - and his pension - he has developed a suitcase-size unit weighing less than 30 kilos, which can be operational within two hours of arrival on site, delivering 150 litres/hr of potable water from virtually any source water. His firm, Hydromatic UK, needs sponsors to get these units on stand-by at key airports.
While he waits to hear from you, Ron continues to travel regularly from northeast England to the Western Sahara where he has established community workshops which produce bottled water for areas where there is nothing potable.
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Sharon Gould, Editor