U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- For a few cents each month, families in poor
countries are purifying drinking water by using diluted bleach and
germ-resistant jugs as part of a program that is reducing by half the
deadly cases of waterborne diarrheal diseases, U.S. health officials
It is a low-tech approach that proponents say can pay for itself
and even boost villages' economies. The pilot program has proven
effective enough that the United States and a group of charities will
seek to expand it to 20 developing countries. That announcement is
planned for an international water meeting in Japan this month.
The key is empowering some of the 1.1 billion people who drink
water tainted by sewage, natural bacteria and parasites to protect
themselves against some of those threats.
``You can provide people with a means to treat their own drinking
water,'' said Dr. Eric Mintz of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. ``It works in the real world.''
Dirty water's chief bane is diarrhea, from cholera, E. coli
bacteria and other bugs. Diarrheal diseases are a particular threat
to young children, killing 2.2 million of them each year, says
Population Services International, a nonprofit group working with CDC
and UNICEF to expand the safe-water system.
Although boiling water kills bacteria, it does not kill many
parasites, and firewood can be scarce and expensive. Nor does that
stop family members from reinfecting the household water bucket with
dirty hands or cups, a problem the CDC discovered during a major
cholera epidemic in Latin America.
It will take decades for governments to build reliable
water-treatment systems and pipe clean water in developing nations.
The CDC, working with the World Health Organization, set out to find
a simple, affordable way for families to purify their own water in
Small amounts of chlorine -- far more diluted than laundry bleach
-- are a staple of modern water treatment. The CDC first experimented
with generators that let remote villages brew their own chlorine from
salt. Then scientists began working with bleach makers in different
countries to produce bottles of the special, diluted version.
The CDC also helped jug makers design germ-resistant versions,
similar to what U.S. campers frequently use. They are big enough to
hold a day's supply, with fill holes small enough to block hands and
a spigot at the bottom.
People just needs to add one capful of disinfectant to each
water-filled jug and wait 20 minutes.
A bottle of disinfectant, enough to last an average family a
month, sells for 15 cents to 30 cents, Mintz said. That is enough to
cover production costs and bring a few pennies profit to the
producers and village kiosks that sell the products, he said.
Pilot testing in such countries as Zambia, Kenya and India show
the chlorine-and-safe-storage system can cut the rate of diarrheal
disease in half, Mintz said.
The system is in use in 15 developing countries.
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