Published on September 27th, 2012 | by Ellen R Delisio0
Solvatten brings clean water
Lots of sun and too little clean water are common problems in many regions of the world, but it took Swedish artist and inventor Petra Wadström to bring the two together for an economical and environmentally sound solution to clean water shortages in some of the world’s poorest countries.
After spending time in sunny Australia and reflecting on the unused solar energy there and then visiting Indonesia where she saw people struggling with chronic water shortages, Wadström invented a device called Solvatten. A plastic container with a filter, Solvatten uses the sun’s heat to eliminate harmful bacteria from water and makes it suitable for drinking within two to six hours. Each container can produce about 11 liters of clean water at a time and can be used several times a day.
The Solvattens are now being used in about 20 countries and there have been numerous pilot programs, said Wadström, now CEO of Solvatten AB, which is located in Stockholm. “It’s hard to say no to people,” she observed.
READY TO DRINK
According to Solvatten AB, about half a billion people must purify their water by boiling it, using charcoal, kerosene or firewood. Still, contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation lead to about 1.6 million deaths worldwide annually.
The Solvattens save time and money, eliminate air pollution, reduce illnesses caused by contaminated water and provide business opportunities. They also have the advantage of providing warm water, which can be used for hygiene.
Users fill the containers with water and lay them out in the sun. A red indicator light signals that the process is starting. When the light turns green, the water is ready to drink. Solvattens have been used by the United Nations in its aid efforts and the company is partnering with un-habitat to reach some countries. The purpose of un-habitat, an agency of the United Nations, is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities and provide all people with adequate shelter. The devices are being distributed through small ngos and companies. Those interested in selling Solvatten can buy a batch of at least 72 units and salespeople distributing Solvattens to developing countries receive priority.
“We have been building networks with good local organizations that can take Solvatten,” said Wadström.“We encourage people to sell them for a small amount of money. We also encourage local people to buy Solvattens – we want to give them a chance to save money and buy them so when they get them they will treat them more carefully.”
In the six years since the company was founded, Wadström already has heard many stories of how her invention has changed lives for the better. The owner of a bakery in Uganda, for example was able to purchase a Solvatten and provides clean water to her 10 employees. In Kampala, a woman who is a hairdresser now can offer her customers warm water – without taking time and money from her business to boil it.
Just the simple act of making tea at a school has become much easier and more sanitary thanks to a Solvatten. At a school in Uganda, parents used to have to boil water at home for their children to take to school to make tea. Those who didn’t bring water had to wait for it to boil over a three-stone stove. Now warm water can be used immediately to make tea.
In Mali, where un-habitat has been distributing the Solvatten, the amount of money spent on fuel to boil water has dropped by at least 50 percent between September 2011 when Solvatten was introduced and April 2012 when the program was assessed, according to Eric Moukoro, regional technical advisor, Water for African Cities Programme for un-habitat. About 230 families had access to Solvattens and un-habitat gave priority to families with children under age five because they are the most susceptible to diseases such as diarrhea from contaminated water. The number of such illnesses also dropped noticeably, Moukoro said. “Our mission has been helped very much by Solvatten.”
While the problem of unsanitary water is a huge one, Wadström is pleased she is able to help people directly and does not have plans for any other inventions right now. “We are a small company in Sweden and see this enormous need – we have to focus.”
The Solvatten is being used in about 20 countries over the world, such as Guinea Bissau and Senegal.