Harder, Better, Filter, Strawnger
By: Ablaza, Lopez, Ng, Tan, Tejada, Teng, and Zarza (SCI 10 M)
It is difficult to believe that a country surrounded by water and abundant in marine resources is be prone to the threat of a water crisis. However, according to the Asian Development Bank’s Water Development Outlook report for 2013, the Philippines may experience a water crisis in the near future, if preventive measures are not taken soon (Ordinario, 2013). One of the components of the National Water Security Index used in the study is the resilience to water disasters (Ordinario, 2013). This factor plays a big role in evaluating the Philippine scenario because the Philippines is very prone to water-related disasters especially typhoons. The aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda shows that it is indeed possible for the lack of potable drinking water due to shortage and water contamination to be a rampant problem in affected areas. Though not highly publicized, one of the donations sent to aid the victims of Typhoon Yolanda was the LifeStraw, a special water filter that converts contaminated water into potable drinking water (Nicolasora, 2013).
Brief history of the LifeStraw
The Lifestraw was created by the company Vestergaard Frandsen, which manufactures public health tools for developing countries. The main headquarters of the company is located in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Lifestraw was invented in 1996 and was distributed internationally in 2005. It started out as the LifeStraw Guinea Worm for the Carter Center. It was used as a filter used to strain out Guinea worm larvae and to prevent its growth. The main purpose of the product was to give access to developing countries to clean water and also to provide a health tool in case of a humanitarian crisis (Vestergaard Frandsen, n.d.). Another reason that the LifeStraw was made was to help to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals on providing access to clean drinking water (BBC News, 2006).
How the LifeStraw works
According to Vestergaard (n.d.), the LifeStraw uses advanced hollow fibre technology to filter out waterborne contaminants such as bacteria and protozoan parasites. The technology also reduces water turbidity by filtering out mud that is mixed in with the water. Vestergaard (n.d.) claims that the filtration process is free of any chemicals, which ensures that the LifeStraw is safe to use. Rather than relying on chemicals like chlorine and iodine to purify the water, the technology behind the LifeStraw relies on a hollow fibre membrane to trap the pathogens in the water and keep them from reaching the person using the LifeStraw.
Vestergaard (n.d.) provides a step-by-step description of the filtering process on the LifeStraw’s product page. When water enters the LifeStraw, it must go through a membrane that consists of narrow fibres. These fibres trap waterborne contaminants, which are eventually flushed out through backwashing. To flush the contaminants out, the user must blow air through the straw after drinking. While the pathogens in the water are trapped, clean water passes through the hollow fibre membrane through small pores in the fibres’ walls. By the time the water reaches the LifeStraw user, virtually all contaminants will have been trapped by the membrane. The LifeStraw can repeat this treatment until it reaches its limit of 1000 litres.
Thoughts and insights
(1) on its effectiveness
The LifeStraw has several awards and titles. It was named “Best Invention of 2005” by Time Magazine, and it also won the Saatchi & Saatchi Award for “World Changing Ideas.” Forbes deemed it as “one of the ten things that will change the way we live,” and Esquire once named it “The Innovation of the Year.” As stated above, the LifeStraw removes 99.99% of all contaminants in water. It is lightweight, durable, and easy to use, and according to the manufacturer, the LifeStraw’s shelf life is 3 years from the time it is manufactured. This shortens out through use, wherein 264 gallons is the maximum. As soon as the product was released in 2005, it received various awards, and groups like the Rotary Club of Brynmawr wanted to set up donation sites for this technology. Thousands of LifeStraws have been distributed in Africa and even in the Philippines. According to the Rotary Club of Brynmawr, they shipped around 5000 LifeStraws to this country in order to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. Aside from being donated and used by poverty stricken areas, backpackers, hikers, and ‘preppers’ also use this technology. With the price range of $20-25 or P900-1125, it is a relatively cheaper way of cleaning water rather than buying expensive filters.
(2) on its impact on sustainable development
With the LifeStraw, people’s access to drinkable fresh water increases. With the 1% of fresh water in the world, it is evident that humankind and its pollution will diminish the portion of this percentage that is drinkable. This percentage will decrease even more, but with the Lifestraw, more amounts of contaminated water can be remedied. In other words, we would be able to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations” through the LifeStraw.
Vestergaard has also been doing its part in making an impact. They have a program entitled ‘The Cause: Buy a LifeStraw – Make an Impact’ wherein, for any purchase of any type of LifeStraw filter, a portion of the funds goes to the distribution of LifeStraw Community, a large water purifier, to various schools in Africa, improving their water crisis. The company started in 2013 in Kenya, one of the top 10 countries without access to clean water and will start large-scale distributions to other parts by March 2014.
(3) on the future direction of the technology
Vestergaard has invented various products related to the LifeStraw, aside from LifeStraw Community. LifeStraw Family 2.0 is a high-volume water filter with the maximum of 30,000 liters. It can support a family of five for 3 to 5 years. LifeStraw Family 1.0 is a smaller version of LifeStraw Community; around 1800 litres is its maximum. LifeStraw Go is a LifeStraw within a go-to water bottle. Lastly, the LifeStraw Guinea Worm focuses on the eradication of guinea worms in the water.
With all of these versions of the product, it is still has areas for improvement. The LifeStraw does not filter out heavy metals and is not able to desalinate water. Also, the shelf-life of their products and filters could be lengthened in order for families to utilize it longer and so that it can be even more beneficial for those who live in areas without access to new supplies. Aside from this, increasing the maximum number of gallons is also recommended. Not all families have this technology, and if neighbors will share it, it would further decrease the lifespan of the product.
To sum it all up, the LifeStraw is indeed a cutting edge innovation that is considered an appropriate technology for sustainable development. With its easy-to-use function, this tool can be a big help to people who don’t have access to drinking water, especially when in times of crisis or disaster. Proven to be an effective device in doing the job, using the LifeStraw will have a great impact on the development of our country. Finally, it will serve as the first step to further improving appropriate technologies for sustainable development in the future.
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