The Search For Clean WaterBy Gretchen Roufs
Inspired by the stark statistic that in Africa almost 20 percent of kids die from water disease before their fifth birthday, Bob Dell, chairman of the board of Dell Tech Laboratories, an organization of chemists and consultants based in London, Ontario, Canada, volunteers his time and energy to help people in developing countries gain access to clean water.
In 2007, Bob, a water scientist, and Fraser Edwards, a businessman with experience in partnering with indigenous leaders to implement change, co-founded "The Water School", a non-profit organization that provides sustainable clean water solutions in countries such as Uganda, Bolivia, Sudan, Kenya and Haiti.
The organization really got its start in 2002 when Bob volunteered with a charitable organization that worked with AIDS orphans in Africa. Daily, he saw children in long lines carrying five-gallon jugs of water.
"The kids walked for an hour-and-a-half to get to a water supply," says Bob. "One day I walked with them. We arrived at a pond with cattle standing in it. The kids slapped the cattle away, got their water, and brought it back to their homes."
Unfortunately, this water is very dirty. Every year, according to "Save the Children," approximately 1.5 million children die from inadequate access to safe drinking water and poor hygiene. Inspired, Bob put together a basic lab in the back of a Ugandan hotel and collected water from as many sources as possible.
"Tests I ran there showed E. coli bacteria counts of 30,000. In comparison, we would shut down a water well in Canada if tests showed an E. coli count of just one," he says.
With this startling information, Bob began researching clean water solutions.
"Over the years, Westerners brought clean water solutions to developing countries, but this created dependency and not sustainability. Wells would be drilled, but would stop working. [More than] 50 percent of the wells drilled in Africa are abandoned," says Bob.
Determined to find a solution, Bob's search led him to solar water disinfection (SODIS). This process involves the combination of water, clear plastic PET bottles and exposure to a full day of sunlight to allow UV-A rays to kill illness-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites. The process works 35 degrees north and south of the equator.
A two-year study beginning in 2009 in rural Uganda was performed to measure the impact of The Water School's program. Results showed that diarrhea and dysentery were reduced in program communities by as much as 86 percent.
It is hard to believe that something as simple as putting water in a plastic bottle laid on a table in the sunshine could have such a big impact — but it does.
"I saw the difference in the kids when they had clean water — they weren't sick all the time, they could go to school, and they were happy," says Bob.
The Water School trains community leaders and local teachers how to properly disinfect drinking water. Then these members of the community teach local families how to take responsibility for their own clean drinking water.
"Ownership is the only way that you get sustainability," says Bob. "The areas in which we started working in have been totally transformed. Clean water is a miracle."
Gretchen Roufs, an 18-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns a marketing and public relations company in San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “Freetime,” contact her at Gretchen@GretchenRoufs.com.