New portable water purifier could save lives

It is hoped that a new suitcase-sized water purifying system that would save lives and dramatically cut the cost of relief efforts in disaster areas will form the basis of a rapid reaction force – but only with sufficient funding.

Retired British water engineer, Ron Hire, who worked for years on UN water projects in Western Sahara, has developed a miniature water-purifier which fits into two suitcases, and could supply 4000 litres of drinking water per day, he told edie. His company, Hydromatic UK, could provide drinking water to the survivors of disasters such as the recent earthquakes in Gujurat in India and in El Salvador within hours, whereas NGOs can take between one or two weeks to install their cumbersome water purifying equipment, said Hire.

Earthquakes typically cause water pipes to be broken, and groundwater to be exposed to bacteria and viruses, says Hire. Low immunities, particularly in children, which are brought about by the poor conditions after the disaster, expose local people to the danger of diseases such as cholera and typhoid, and the most dangerous of all – ecoli, which results in life-threatening diarrhoea.

Though the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that a person needs 23 litres of clean water per day for cooking and washing, as well as for drinking, Hire points out that it would only take one litre per day to keep a person alive, which he could do with his machines until the larger NGOs arrived with their full-scale water purifying equipment.

The system can work under any conditions, and will bring water up to WHO standards. “It even works with certain modifications with sea water,” said Hire.

Hire’s idea to develop the technology that would save thousands of lives first came to him when he was in Mozambique at the time of last year’s catastrophic floods. “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 said. According to Hire, his equipment makes water provision 10 to 20 times cheaper.

Hire also points out that his miniature water purifying machine is much more ecologically sound than providing drinking water in bottles, for example, where the UN currently flies bottled water for its troops into East Timor. “There must be 30,000 plastic bottles disposed of every day,” he said.

Hire is now looking for funding for his project, and says that a vanguard of 10 miniature water purifiers would cost him £30,000 (US$44,000). Unfortunately, he has already spent half of his pension on the project, and the company which supplies the parts for the water purifier, Hydrochem, is too small to subsidise the programme to any great extent. His plan is to set up a team of volunteers with the machines near an airport in order to fly out to disaster zones at a moment’s notice. “If I can get backing I would like to set up a small [business] unit, build a dozen or so machines, and be on standby,” he said.

Anyone interested in assisting Hydromatic UK should phone Ron Hire on 0191 251 5636, or Les Hodgeson on 0191 548 6257.

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