A New Water Filter, An Old Debate
The BBC reported last week about a new device being marketed to purify water in developing countries. The LifeStraw looks like a large plastic flute, and contains internal filters that remove bacteria from the water as it is drunk. The device is priced at around $3.50, and is designed to purify 700 liters over the course of six months to a year.
In spite of its initial cost ($3.50 is still expensive to someone making $1 a day), the device is still a welcome addition to other water purifying devices now coming to market. Apparently, not everyone agrees. The BBC article included a critique of the device by Paul Hetherington, a spokesman for UK charity WaterAid.
?The problem is that many people live very far away from their water, often walking a total of 20km or more carrying a weight of 25 kilos. The LifeStraw isn’t going to prevent that long journey, even if it does improve the water they drink.–He continued, ?It only costs a charity like WaterAid ?15 per person to provide them with water, sanitation and hygiene education, which, provided there is decent water resource management in the country, will last them a lifetime. At that rate, $3.50 is expensive.?
Comments like this increasingly frustrate me, and I’ve seen them made repeatedly by sector-specific non-profits who believe that it’s pointless to try and solve one problem if efforts are not simultaneously made to solve another. It’s unfortunate that some organizations think that their solutions are the best and others should be disregarded, but that is precisely where development through enterprise adds value: it’s not an either/or proposition.
Rather than compete for funding with similarly focused groups, private sector solutions provide market-based alternatives that don?t rely on philanthropy or donations to make an impact. For groups like WaterAid and others, they also offer new tools which can be used (or not) under the appropriate circumstances. These solutions also improve in terms of both price and quality as market demand picks up and warrants further innovation.
LifeStraw is being developed and marketed by the Vestergaard Frandsen Group, a global firm already familiar with designing commercial products to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. The company also produces two devices that prevent the spread of malaria: PermaNet, an insecticide-treated anti-malarial net that kills mosquitoes upon impact; and ZeroFly, an insecticide incorporated plastic sheeting that provides shelter and malaria prevention.