By Doug Armey, Past President of the Rotary Club of Fresno, CA, USA, and Ecuador Project Fair exhibitor
In the time it takes you to read this article, five children will have died from water related illness. Over two billion people lack access to clean water. Impure water is responsible for approximately 80 percent of all illnesses worldwide. This affects not only health but also education and financial stability.*
My wife and I traveled to Ecuador in November to attend District 4440’s 10th annual Ecuador Project Fair, a three day event where clubs from around the district showcase local service projects in need of support to international visitors who are interested in partnering with local clubs. We had the opportunity to present about support we can offer local clubs and listen to numerous project presentations, most of which addressed local water issues.
As we traveled through small villages in the Andes outside of Quito and Cuenca, we learned although communities have plenty of water, it often sits in settling basins to let unwanted silt suspended in the water supply settle. Unprotected from storm runoff and animals, these water sources are at risk of biological contamination.
The numerous solutions to purify water presented at the project fair were elaborate water filtration systems that work but cost thousands of dollars and require technical expertise to build and maintain. Throughout the course of the project fair, the need for simple, low-cost solutions to help purify the contaminated water consumed by many Ecuadorian communities became evident.
Public health officials often recommend that households boil their water up to ten minutes to kill all microbes that would cause disease. Still, boiling water is not uniformly practiced in the communities we visited, often times due to costly or limited fuel sources and unpleasant heat and smoke. The quantity of fuel consumed for boiling water is large; it takes approximately one kilogram of wood to boil one liter of water. Part of the reason we came to Ecuador was to present local clubs with a simple, cost-effective tool to determine the pasteurization temperature for water and milk using local resources.
The Water Pasteurization Instrument (WAPI) is a reusable, inexpensive thermometer that helps determine when liquid reaches pasteurization temperatures. Pasteurization occurs at a lower temperature than boiling water, required less fuel resources. The WAPI is a transparent tube containing wax. As water is being heated for pasteurization, the small device is inserted into the water. After the water reaches 150 °F (65 °C) for six minutes, the wax melts and drops to the bottom of the tube, indicating that the water is safe from bacteria, viruses and parasites. Our Rotary club has been working with communities in Africa to provide families with WAPIs for over 25 years.
WAPIs are relatively inexpensive to make: they cost less than US $.50 per family or US $100 for a village of 200 families. They can be made with local resources available in Ecuador, are indefinitely reusable, and have no associated maintenance costs. They are simple to make and can be made by the hundreds, a great project for Rotary and Rotaract clubs, Rotary Community Corps, and other groups. The beneficiary community can also be trained on how to make these temperature assessment tools, which could serve as micro-business opportunities for local communities.
Our club helps local clubs take ownership of this project. We can help local clubs determine which products to obtain to build a WAPI and we train the clubs on how to build and use the device. The club can then take on building the WAPI and distributing it/selling it for a nominal fee to those who need the device, and then train the beneficiary community on how to use the device.
Many of the local clubs at the project fair were excited about the device. I realize this is not a long-term solution for purifying water but a complement to the larger long term water purification projects. We hope to return to Ecuador in the near future to hold training workshops on building and distributing WAPIs in hopes of reducing consumption of contaminated water while long-term water filtration projects are developed and implemented.
* UN-Water, a United Nations inter-agency branch for coordinating water and sanitation measures