According to a 2014 update from the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 748 million, or roughly one in 10 people worldwide live without access to clean water every day. In many areas of the world, including communities in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America, the percentage of those lacking access to potable water is much greater. Planet Water Foundation strives to alleviate water-borne disease, illness, and death in the world’s most vulnerable communities through providing access to clean, safe drinking water and water-health and hygiene education programs.
In 2015, Planter Water Foundation launched “Project 24” on World Water Day, as a way to foster the Foundation’s mission and draw attention to the world water crisis. Project 24 erected 24 clean water filtration systems (AquaTowers) in 24 impoverished communities in just 24 hours, ultimately providing clean water to more than 24,000. In 2016 the project was expanded to five countries Cambodia, Colombia, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. This is an incredible undertaking and challenge, as it normally takes a day to deploy one single AquaTower project.
When considering how Planet Water addresses water issues at the community level, Planet Water’s AquaTowers are a pinpoint-accurate method of providing modern water filtration technology to those who need it most. Similar to how many developing countries are bypassing wire line telephone systems and moving directly to wireless communications, Planet Water’s AquaTower filtration systems provide an efficient, affordable, and scalable solution to a significant problem. AquaTowers are typically installed within primary school grounds thus enabling the organization to target its programs to children.
According to Mark Steele, Planet Water Foundation’s CEO, “one challenge in providing clean water access to impoverished communities can actually come through the drilling of a well, as well water often becomes contaminated. Utilizing an existing water source such as a river, lake, canal, or well, contaminated water is routed to the AquaTower site and pumped – either with minimal use of electricity or with a manual treadle or bicycle pump – to an elevated water storage tank. The system then operates by gravity alone, drawing water down through the AquaTower’s filtration system.”
Planet Water’s filter utilizes ultra-filtration (UF) technology, comprised of hollow-fiber membranes housed within a protective canister through which untreated feed water enters. These membranes create a physical barrier against bacteria, protozoa, viruses, pathogens and other contaminates greater than 0.1 micron. As the water passes through, these harmful organisms are removed and clean drinking water, which meets World Health Organization water quality standards, is produced. The water is dispensed through nine faucets arranged around the AquaTower that provide up to 1,000 liters of clean water per hour, supporting the daily drinking water and hand washing requirements of up to 1,000 people. The overall design of the AquaTower is a modular system with few moving parts allowing for easy installation and maintenance and a solution that is low-cost, easily replicated, and scalable. The system also operates without the use of chemicals that may be harmful to the environment and requires no consumables.
In addition to providing clean, safe water, Planet Water Foundation projects include a four-module Water-Health and Hygiene education program focused on teaching school children behaviors that make a lifelong impact on staying healthy. A recent health impact study performed by the University of Nebraska College of Public Health shows that Planet Water’s combination of clean water systems and hygiene education programs has resulted in higher school attendance averages and improved academic performance. Children benefitting from Planet Water’s interventions experienced an 80% decrease in total number of diarrheal episodes, with 58% of non-residential students achieving a grade “A” (using math as a proxy) versus 27% for students not participating in the program.
The location of projects in community schools promotes the engagement of school staff to maintain the water filtration system on a daily basis. Planet Water’s in-country team educates the school’s staff with in-depth training on routine cleaning and maintenance procedures. “When routine manual cleaning procedures are followed, the AquaTower will operate for at least 5-7 years without any consumable components, at which point the only maintenance needed is a replacement of the filter element,” said Steele. “A daily cleaning procedure flushes the system of contaminants, while a more thorough weekly process ensures that the system is sanitized. Additionally, Planet Water’s teams visit each project three times per year for five years to ensure that all AquaTower systems are fully operational and to reinforce any training necessary on maintenance procedures.”
In erecting the AquaTowers, Steele and his team aim to provide local, sustainable jobs. The company sources as many components local to the community as possible in order to minimize shipping costs and promote self‐sufficiency. “A few critical filtration components are sourced from a single manufacturer to ensure consistency and quality, but by establishing local supply chains, we are able to integrate the highest quality components while supporting community job creation.”
In 2017, Planet Water will look to expand Project 24 beyond 24 communities, and hopes to provide a wider platform for its corporate sponsors to benefit from their association with Planet Water Foundation. To date, Planet Water has deployed nearly 700 AquaTowers across 12 countries supporting and is supporting the daily drinking water requirements of 700,000 people.