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Making Waves: Tourists Deliver Tiny Clean-Water Devices Overseas

August 4, 2016Posted by Helaina Hovitz

When 700 million people worldwide are in need of clean drinking water, you can never have too many solutions on the ground.

When those inventions can be implemented by everyday people just passing through another country, that’s even better.

By untapping the potential of using sunlight and salt water to create a steady stream of safe drinking water, Patrick and Elizabeth Schirmer Shores were specifically able to design a device so small that it could be easily donated and delivered by tourists and business travelers visiting Mexico, Barbados, Nicaragua, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, and other countries.

The compact water purification device runs on solar power and saltwater, and can treat enough drinking water for 2,000 people every day—an impressive scale for a piece of equipment you can hold in your hand.

The device uses a process called “saline electrolysis” to create an electric and chemical reaction in salt water that naturally produces chlorine — the most commonly used water purifier in the world. The chlorine kills germs, bacteria, and other potential sources of disease.

“This natural chlorine solution doesn’t affect the smell or taste of the cleaned water, and is so much safer and more pleasant to drink than the diseased water they may have grown used to,” Shores said.

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The “Give Back As You Go” element of their operation recruits volunteers planning to take a trip to a country that could benefit from the device to buy one for $297, then learn how to use it. When they travel, they spend about 80 minutes on the ground with one of Untapped Shores’  local nonprofit partners in a number of countries, showing them how it works.

This form of “voluntourism” is also jumpstarting economic opportunities in its wake, allowing people in developing countries to turn the devices into entrepreneurial platforms.

“The Pure Shores unit can be used to create sale-able items such as bottled water, dish soap, laundry detergent, medical disinfectant, and hand sanitizer — all of which contribute to the better health of entire communities and can create enough income to sustain a family,” Elizabeth Shores said.

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Grace from Kenya, Africa works at New Life Restoration Ministries International, and said that with the device, they were able to the Untapped Shores water purification system, we were able to purify all the water for our compound in the Kibera slums.

“We nourish over 120 orphans here, and even more schoolchildren and church parishioners,” she said. “When in tight quarters like we have in the slums, sickness and disease spreads fast, but with this clean water and sanitation solution at our fingertips, we’ve noticed a shift in health.There is no more typhoid!”

Florence from Joint Efforts for Youth Uganda said that since they started collaborating with Untapped Shores, she has been getting less complaints from children in the Ndoddo Village of stomachaches.

“What’s more, the women feel empowered, and enhancing their lives via the learnings from this technology,” she added.

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The concept isn’t new, but it’s generally been used only for large, city-wide water plants. The couple’s nonprofit, Untapped Shores, has scaled-down that water purification system so that it can work efficiently in rural villages. Last year, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student named Natasha Wright developed a similar system designed for villages in India.

“It’s useful to install a small-scale desalination system,” Wright said. “It’s more costly to pump in water from a municipal plant.”

Susan Amrose, a lecturer in civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, pointed out that India’s population is currently living on top of brackish water sources in regions that are water-scarce or about to become water-scarce.

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“A solution with the potential to double recoverable water in an environment where water is becoming more precious by the day could have a huge impact,” she said in a statement.

The Pure Shores device is designed to address the needs of a single institution or even small village, and the devices have already been deployed in orphanages, schools, and hospitals in over 20 countries around the world. It has also been credited with protecting against water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid, and with blunting a cholera outbreak in Zambia.

The organization is also using the data and experience from four years of developing and deploying the Pure Shores devices to design an build a new generation of the device, which should be “more efficient, ergonomic, and intuitive to operate.”
“Safe water access makes a quantum shift in one’s life,” Shores said. “It means no one needs to get sick or die needlessly from preventable water-borne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, or ebola. It gives them a chance.”

Photo credits: Gary Edenfield, CC; Untapped Shores

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