People who read Shanghaiist’s posts on a regular basis must by now have a pretty good sense of the tongue-in-cheek manner in which most subject matter is approached. Every once in a blue moon, something will come along that is so immediately affecting and amazing that our usual sarcasm-laced tone just seems petty and small-minded. The LifeStraw is one of those things.
Most of us have seen the paid programs with Sally Struthers for Save the Children, an organization which asks others to sponsor the provision of food, medicine and educational materials for one child at a rate of $0.75 a day. What if I told you that with $2 you could provide enough drinking water for one person for an entire year? Sounds improbable, right?
The LifeStraw does just that. Measuring 25cm long and 29mm in diameter, the LifeStraw is small enough to be hung around the neck, has no moving parts and requires no electrical power. A single LifeStraw can filter up to 700 liters of water and effectively removes most of the micro organisms which spread diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid and Cholera. Bacteria such as Shigella, Salmonella, Enterrococus, Staphylococcus Aureus and E.Coli are also removed. Tests and research studies indicate:
The level of bacteria in [surface] water will be reduced to levels that will provide water safe for human consumption. ‘Safe’ implies water from which any health risk is minimal. The particulate removal suggests that the number of any parasitic ova in raw water will also be reduced significantly. The released amount of iodine in water treated from LifeStraw is not normally damaging to human health.
Stop and think about this for a second. Do you realize the impact that this invention could have on life as we know it? The Red Cross estimates that more than one billion people lack access to clean water. In 1998, the WHO estimates that 2.2 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases, including more than 1.8 million children under the age of five. The Red Cross further reminds us that:
… [A]ccess to clean water is increasingly becoming a source of tension between countries. Trans-boundary interdependence is considerable, with nearly two-thirds of the world’s major catchments shared by several states and over 300 rivers crossing national boundaries. The UN Environment Programme estimates that about 40 percent of the world’s population live alongside river basins. Potential conflicts are a constant threat for riverine regions as pressure on them increases.
Within China, the LifeStraw could go a long way to ease growing public concern about access to safe drinking water. A survey conducted in April and May of this year by the All-China Environmental Federation (ACEF) and supervised by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) showed that drinking water topped the list of environmental concerns of the 4 million people surveyed. Environmental policy-maker Sheng Huaren notes that, when tested in 2004, “water from half the tested sections of China’s seven major rivers was undrinkable because of pollution.”
What are we trying to say? That the LifeStraw will save millions of lives and ease tensions between countries in conflict? Yes, it has that potential. We feel like awarding the LifeStraw the Nobel Prize right now. Okay, so Shanghaiist is not on the Nobel Prize committee, but if anyone from Denmark’s Vestergaard Frandsen Group (the firm responsible for the 10 years of work and research that went into creating the LifeStraw) ever visits Shanghai, maybe they will settle for a big, awkward hug instead.
- LifeStraw’s website is currently under construction, but check back often to stay informed about its progress.
- A brief technical rundown is available at MedGadget, the internet journal of emerging medical technologies.
- The LifeStraw has been nominated for the INDEX:Awards, which celebrate practical design and innovation. Check out a list of the top nominations for 2005.