Website Focuses on Global Drinking Water Crisis

Did you know that if you fill a glass or clear plastic bottle with water and place it on a roof or a corrugated iron surface, given enough time and sunlight a combination of heat and ultraviolet light will kill most viruses, bacteria, and protozoa?

by James Laughlin, Editor

Did you know that if you fill a glass or clear plastic bottle with water and place it on a roof or a corrugated iron surface, given enough time and sunlight a combination of heat and ultraviolet light will kill most viruses, bacteria, and protozoa?

This type of simple solar disinfection system may not be as safe as more traditional disinfection techniques, but it beats the alternative of drinking untreated water straight from a river.

More than a billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. Diseases caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation are among the world’s most serious public health threats, accounting for nearly 80 percent of illnesses in developing countries and killing millions of people - mostly children - each year.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Global Health and Education Foundation recently joined other science, engineering, and medical academies from around the world in launching a new website promoting the importance of safe drinking water.

“Safe Drinking Water Is Essential” (www.drinking-water.org) is a web resource for people around the world who make decisions about how to make safe drinking water available in communities that need it, including scientists, engineers, water managers, government officials, non-governmental organizations, and philanthropic organizations.

“Many of the approaches and technologies needed to improve drinking water quality already exist,” said Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. “This Web resource will provide the right information to the people who need it most.”

The Global Health and Education Foundation provided funding to the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences to develop the Web resource in collaboration with the Water Science and Technology Board and Office of International Programs of the National Research Council.

More than 125 science, medical, and engineering academies worldwide are disseminating information about the website, which is available in five languages. In addition, 10,000 free DVD versions will be distributed to non-governmental organizations that are working to improve water quality.

“Safe Drinking Water Is Essential” provides detailed information on water sources and options for distribution and treatment. Case studies focus on problems and conditions specific to different regions of the world.

The multimedia, interactive site can help users diagnose specific causes of unsafe drinking water and identify technologies that could help improve water quality and improve access to safe drinking water. Sections include sources of water and options for distribution and treatment.

Treatment systems discussed on the site range from simple to complex. It includes basic information on most conventional treatment techniques, such as slow sand and diatomaceous earth filtration, among others.

While the basic discussion of water treatment technologies may not be of much interest to water industry professionals, some of the case studies featured on the site are eye opening.

As an example, bottled water has really caught on in the Philippines. In this case the “bottle” is a large jug and families must tote them to a local “filling station” where they buy water by the gallon. Water from the municipal systems is either not safe or not available. While there are concerns about the quality of water from the filling stations, they have helped reduce the number of cholera outbreaks in the country.

Reading the stories and thinking about the lives these people lead reminds me just how soft a life we live - and makes me very glad I live where I do.

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