Water’s Next Big Thing

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Every year, around 3.5 million people die due to a lack of drinking water supply and sanitation, mostly in developing countries. That’s about the same number of people as the entire population of Los Angeles.

What You Need To Know About ‘Point Of Use’

Drinking water is a resource I undoubtedly take for granted.

Every time I go out for a jog around the D.C. monuments, I find myself thirsty afterwards and in search of water.

However, I am never worried where to locate water and whether the water will be safe to drink.

I’ll normally just take a stroll down to the local convenience store where I can buy an ice-cold bottle of natural spring water for a very affordable price. I can also drink from the tap and have full confidence that the water has been properly filtered before gulping down.

This is not the case for 780 million people worldwide, who lack access to safe drinking water. That’s more than double the U.S. population.

Additionally, the water crisis claims more lives each year than war and other forms of violence. Every day, we hear news about violence and atrocities from war, but hardly anything about the deadliness of water scarcity.

At first glance, lack of access seems like such a fixable problem. Royce Francis, an environmental engineer studying drinking water infrastructure at the George Washington University, sat down with us in Kogan Plaza to help explain why it is much harder to fix than one might think.

As we all cheerfully sipped from our water of bottles, Francis revealed to us that the filtered water we were drinking was possible because of a hefty investment in our water system – a luxury that developing countries do not share. 

Francis mentioned “point of use” (POU) water systems as a potential solution and cheaper source of clean drinking water. In fact, they help reduce disease by 30 to 40 percent, making it as safe as it is cost effective. After reading this, I thought to myself of the millions of lives this could save, while at the same time adding a peace of mind for those drinking the water.

Francis says POUs are a viable solution to one of our historically greatest challenges. There are organizations, such as Engineers Without Borders, which enable concerned citizens to help implement these much-needed POU systems within developing nations.

—​ Eric Osman

That’s one scary statistic.

Sound unnecessary? I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, the more I learned about this subject the more upset I became. Why is this happening? My mind whirled, and the question became:

Armed with a burning question and compelling mission (if I do say so myself) we interviewed Royce Francis, Ph.D., a drinking water infrastructure researcher here at the George Washington University, to learn his thoughts on this water crisis.

His solution? “Point of use” — or “POU” — treatment: an affordable, adaptable and already-expanding option in developing countries. But his reasons behind the urgency of this were even more compelling to me.

Turns out clean water isn’t just necessary for disease prevention — it is also a direct factor in people’s success.

No access to clean drinking water means either taking a dangerous chance on dirty water or searching for better options. That means walking for hours to find a “safe” river or well, a job normally delegated to women. That means more time working and less time for education, jobs or economic development.

Finding water takes over people’s lives, Francis explained. So with that one stressor removed, they can focus on building their own lives and communities. Clean water empowers.

It’s not something we really think about, is it? We take for granted that what we drink will be clean. It’s time we bring that security to the rest of the world.

Through incredible new technologies and pioneering organizations, people around the world are getting the comfort of knowing their water is clean for the very first time.

Francis is a passionate supporter of Engineers Without Borders, a university organization that sends teams of college students to developing countries to build long-lasting water purification systems. We even have a chapter here at GW. You can donate, spread the word, or heck, even join.

Everyone deserves a chance at education, equality, and a better life. As Francis explained, that can start with one clean glass of water. Will you be the one to turn on the tap?


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