Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chilean Purifier Brings Clean Water to the Poor

Rosa Reyes lives in San Jose de Cerrillos, a small camp on the outskirts of Chile's capitol, Santiago. She says for years the people inhabiting this camp have suffered from diseases due to the poor quality of their drinking water. But now, thanks to a new inexpensive water purification system developed by scientists at the Chilean Advanced Innovation Centre, Reyes says she and her neighbors are no longer suffering. 

"It is cleaner. Our kids aren't sick, it is easier for the elderly that [otherwise] have to boil their water." The system works by compressing contaminated water and then feeding it into a chamber where a quick change in pressure and exposure to an electrical field converts it into plasma, a state of matter similar to gas. In a plasma state, the water is ionized - killing 100 percent of bacteria and microbes it carried. According to Alfredo Zolezzi, a scientist at the Centre, the system can purify 35 litres of water in just five minutes - using the same amount of energy that it takes to run a light bulb. Zolezzi says since it was installed in September the results have been remarkable. 

"It went better than we had anticipated. Not only did the people have water - which one would imagine is a basic right and necessity - what it really affected was these peoples dignity, the ability to feel that they have water available and can live like a normal person." Julian Ugarte helped develop the system. He says one its greatest benefits is its low cost, making it a sustainable solution for millions of people now living in poverty. 

 "We need new ideas, not obsolete ideas. The technology could have a tremendous impact on 63 percent of the world that makes less than $1,500 dollars a year that nobody considers - which is also the largest market in the world. So, you can also get business, though per person it might not be so useful, but could be at mass. And this opens the possibility, not only in this centre, but for everyone who can generate a successful enterprise and solve problems facing the poorest populations." The United Nations estimates that one in six people have inadequate access to safe drinking water. Ugarte hopes their plasma purifier could dramatically reduce that number. Rosa Reyes says she prays that the benefits of the purification system will extend far beyond her small camp. 

"I hope in Africa they get the same great privilege we've had and get purifiers just like us." The developers of the system hope to answer Rosa Reyes' prayers. They are currently working on a second prototype that will hopefully reduce the cost of water purification even further - making clean water for the planets poorest - a reality. Ben Gruber, Reuters.

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