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Clean Water Technologies To The Rescue After Disasters

命の水 [1]What are you grateful for? Health? Loved ones? Family? Possessions?

How about water, how much do you notice and appreciate it’s availability? In much of America we take water for granted.

But if you grew up in especially rural or third world conditions you know better.

That it sometimes means walking miles to get water. That contaminated water is a real problem.

What do you do in your spare time? Bay Area doctor, Enoch Choi, uses his vacations to visit disaster sites around the world.

He’s gone to minister in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to Haiti where an earthquake killed more than 220,000, into Japan after the devastating Tsunami and he’s traveled to Cholera outbreaks in Cambodia and Kenya, 12 trips in all since 2005.

Dr. Choi and his peers with Jordan International Aid, travel into remote areas, many hours from the nearest hospital to save the lives of people who would otherwise not get care.

“I’m accidentally becoming something of a disaster expert, he says ruefully, “Access to clean water is vital to our ability to help people when we arrive after disasters. Water systems in many places are fragile and death waits in contaminated water.”

Disaster Costs

According to the United Nations statistics [2], our systems are fragile enough the world’s economy is literally treading water. Since 1981 the amount of wealth lost in weather related disasters has been exceeding the rate at which wealth is being created.

At the same time our exposure to disaster risk appears to be increasing. “Between 2002 and 2011, there were 4130 disasters recorded, resulting from natural hazards around the world where more than a million people perished and at least $1.2 trillion was lost.

The 2011 Tohoku Tsunami in Japan caused more than $300 billion in damages. The annual number of billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. has tripled since the 1980s.

Add man-made disasters like the approximately $400 billion in costs for Ukraine and Belarus in the years since the 1986 meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant and the hundreds of millions dead and dying from epidemics like Smallpox, Malaria, Measles, Tuberculosis, Flu and AIDS and anyone not lost in digital distraction begins to see the value in recognizing the existence of the forest sized preventable disasters we face.

The Year of Water

“If we pay attention, water can become a language for us to communicate and understand our common future in relation to disasters.” Says Dr. Choi. “In this, the United Nations Year of Water, without even counting disasters, five thousand people die every day from water-borne diseases and 1 billion people on the planet lack access to clean water.”

Jacque Cousteau, who lived in and on the water, asked us to remember that the water cycle and the life cycle are one. Cousteau’s quote is a reminder that access to clean water can significantly reduce the death toll after disasters.

Filthy water can be washed

An African proverb says filthy water cannot be washed, and that was true, until recently. Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI) has developed large water and wastewater filtration membrane technologies using a natural process called forward osmosis.

Forward osmosis is also a part of Dr. Choi’s view of a better future and it’s moved him to take a role as a member of the board of advisors for a start up company, FosmoMed [3] which is about to market an innovative IV solutions bag they call Maji, which is the Swahili word for water.

Because they use forward osmosis the bags can travel empty and use whatever water is available at the site of a disaster which makes them lightweight enough for doctors like Choi to pack the bags in with them to help save the lives of people dying after disasters from Cholera and other conditions caused by water contamination.

Soulful writer W. H. Auden makes the point, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

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By Mark Holmer, a biotech researcher and industry writer. I am passionate about health care reform and social issues.