The death of children is always shocking – when we hear about it and are reminded of it.
Around the world, 800,000 children under the age of 5 are killed by diarrhea each year. That’s 2,200 each day. The key cause is lack of safe drinking water.
Depending on the source of your statistics, somewhere between 780 million and 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water.
I’ve obviously posted about this many times over the years, but not in a while – and when I started explaining it in a comment over on one of Katherine Coble’s Facebook posts, I decided it was time to come back here and give you an update.
When I go with LEAMIS International Ministries to Sierra Leone in November 2013, one thing we’ll do is install a water chlorination and filtration system. This is a major emphasis of LEAMIS, under the name “Project 10:42.” The name is a reference to Matthew 10:42: “I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.” (Common English Bible)
Who came up with that name, you ask? Modesty forbids an answer.
LEAMIS attacks the clean water issue from two different directions. In cases where relatively-clear, relatively-clean water is available, individuals and families can easily use a process called SODIS to disinfect it. SODIS is as simple as putting water into a clear plastic soft drink bottle and placing it in the sunlight for a designated amount of time. Ultraviolet rays kill the germs. (Plastic soft drink bottles, and I say this with some measure of regret, are available worldwide.)
But I’ve seen people in Kenya dipping water out of muddy ponds. SODIS only works on clear water. So LEAMIS works with the host church in any community we’re serving to install a water purification system at the church. This is a combined system, based on research by pillar-of-the-ministry and former Navy oceanographer Bob Willems.
First, the water is filtered, to get rid of sediment as well as larger parasites. This is accomplished with a series of four 50-gallon drums. The first drum, which must be higher than the others, is your source tank, where the water is collected. The second drum contains gravel and the third contains sand. The top layer of the sand, after a bit of use, actually develops good bacteria and becomes a “biofilter,” making it even more effective. The water is fed by gravity through the gravel filter and then the sand filter and drains into the fourth tank, where it is held for chlorination.
Chlorination kills off the microorganisms too small to be caught by filtration. LEAMIS originally used the McGuire chlorinator, and it’s a good product, but starting with the last trip I took, in 2010, we began using the Hays chlorinator, which is smaller, simpler and less expensive, making it better for the type of projects we do.
Both work on the same principle: electricity is passed through salt water to liberate the chlorine gas. The McGuire unit produces a stream of chlorine gas which you can bubble through a tank of water, or install inline so that it bubbles through running water.
The Hays unit, by contrast, produces a very strong chlorine solution – similar to your favorite bleach, but without any laundry-related additives – which can then be added, in small quantities, to a tank of water. The chlorinator itself is about the size of a softball. In a complete kit, it comes with a small battery and a solar panel with which to charge the battery. In a pinch, it can also be run off a car battery (a common power source in developing countries where not everyone is on the grid).
The complete Hays unit costs less than $600 – a pretty small price to pay, considering it can serve as many as 5,000 people a day.
Consider supporting a missions group that’s involved with clean water, or you can give directly to the producers of the Hays or McGuire units to help them make their products available. Or you could support someone who’s going on a mission trip in the next year or so. (Suffice it to say I have a suggestion along those lines.)