Water insecurity affects more than 1 billion people around the globe. This could mean a lack of access to water or the water sources nearby are contaminated. Waterborne pollutants are a large contributor to disease and are responsible for the deaths of 4,000 children each day.
However, a new water-filtration system developed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) could be a reliable way to address this life-threatening problem, even in the most remote regions.
"We're using MIT intellect to produce technology systems that are of the highest quality, and we can train people to use them, and change the culture down in these poor communities," explained Steven Dubowsky of MIT. "This is a whole new paradigm for providing clean water for people in need."
The first photovoltaic powered reverse osmosis (PVRO) system was installed in the remote village of La Mancalona, in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The 400 residents in the village have historically been water insecure and were open to being part of this pilot program.
The system is able to collect and filter rainwater, unclean water drawn from wells or other water sources that have been contaminated by human fecal material. While the system does have an integrated computer to regulate the filtration processes, the rest of the components are pretty simple and can be easily replaced if something breaks.
The greatest indicator of the system's success is what it gives the people of the village: independence.
While many well-meaning organizations will come to remote villages and put systems in place for the locals, these efforts forget the fact that most people in these communities desire self-reliance, not handouts. Local residents are trained on how to operate and maintain the equipment, providing a sense of ownership in the process. Additionally, procedures have been put into place to maintain independence.
The water is sold to the residents of the village for 5 pesos per 20-liter bottle — a dramatic discount compared to the going rate of filtered water from the next town an hour away. This comparatively nominal fee covers costs associated with running the system, including the operators, replacement parts, and filters.
While selling water to the residents is enough to keep operations running, the system is also affording them the opportunity for commerce.
"They're also trying to develop a business plan focused on selling clean water to tourists who come to the local Mayan ruins," researcher Huda Elasaad explained in the statement. "So it's been interesting seeing what they've done with this new economy."
This program has been so successful that the researchers are looking into expanding to other areas. It is hoped that other villages, as well as remote schools or hospitals, will benefit from this technology.