John Deotrakul is director of global communications & development for Planet Water Foundation. Deotrakul can be reached at [email protected].
Access to clean water is something that people in developed nations take for granted. However, it is a daily challenge for a huge number of people around the world, with the latest UN figures showing 2.2 billion people globally lacking access to safely managed water.
Planet Water Foundation is a nonprofit organization which was setup to help address this challenge. With a mission to transform the health and well-being of children in the world’s most impoverished communities through providing access to safe drinking water, the organization was established in 2009 and has deployed more than 1,500 projects across 15 countries, bringing clean water to more than 2 million beneficiaries.
Solutions for Rural Communities
Planet Water’s primary intervention is the AquaTower, a community level water filtration system. This system was designed and developed by Planet Water Founder and CEO Mark Steele, who prior to establishing Planet Water had extensive experience working in the water industry. Steele had seen firsthand the need for intervention during his time in the Asia-Pacific region, and the AquaTower was developed to support the countless communities who consume contaminated water on a daily basis and suffer from poor health and illness as a result.
To date, Planet Water has deployed more than 1,300 AquaTower systems. The system is designed to work in rural sub-tropical environments and can operate without power, requiring a simple maintenance process. An existing water source, such as a contaminated well or pond water, is pumped to an elevated storage tank from which point the system operates by gravity, drawing water through the filter, removing organisms harmful to human health and producing clean drinking water. The clean water is dispensed at six faucets arranged around the base of the AquaTower, providing easy access points for drinking water. In addition, the system contains built-in soap dispensers on three sides of the tower, providing handwashing facilities to the recipient community, which has become even more important with the COVID-19 pandemic.
AquaTower projects are typically deployed in elementary schools, with access opened up to the wider community outside of school hours. One AquaTower produces 1,000 liters of clean, safe drinking water per hour, enough to support the daily drinking water requirements of up to 1,800 people.
The Planet Water team also commits for the long term, with their in-country teams performing sustainability visits for four years post-project installation to ensure the systems are functioning as designed and maintained properly.
Along with each AquaTower, the Planet Water team conducts a Water-Health and Hygiene Education Program. This program is an essential complement to providing clean water access, and aims to create change in awareness, knowledge and behaviors related to water-health and hygiene among children, youth and young adults. Each side of the AquaTower includes a banner above the faucets depicting the same key messages taught in the classroom, ensuring the Water Health and Hygiene education program and the AquaTower work in conjunction with one another, reinforcing behavior change in the classroom and at the point of use.
Over the years, disaster response has become another critical focus area for the organization. Initially deploying AquaTower systems in areas devastated by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the 2019 earthquake in Lombok, Indonesia, Planet Water subsequently developed the AquaBlock, a turnkey emergency water kiosk, which can be rapidly deployed in the wake of emergencies and natural disasters.
This system is designed to fit in the cargo hold of an airplane. Once it is transported to the emergency area, it can be deployed in minutes taking water from sources, such as rivers or floodwater, through a four-stage purification process and producing enough clean water to support the daily drinking water requirements of up to 9,500 people.
In 2020 alone, the organization deployed AquaBlock systems in Cambodia in response to devastating floods; in the Philippines in response to Typhoon Goni; in Vietnam in response to Typhoon Molave; and in Honduras in response to hurricanes Eta and Iota.
Adapting to COVID-19
COVID-19 has presented Planet Water Foundation with many unique challenges. With operations spread across seven countries, and with international travel put on hold, the Planet Water team was forced to adapt and manage projects in a different way.
As lockdowns came into effect, projects were rescheduled and large events planned around World Water Day in 2020 were canceled. The Planet Water team adapted and implemented new protocols to make their solutions even more relevant. Hygiene education programming was enhanced and on-site installations were adapted to ensure masks, social distancing and the use of sanitizer were all included. Attendance of volunteers — who are usually key contributors on projects — was restricted. Consequently, Planet Water’s teams proceeded to deploy projects with support from members of the local communities to ensure critical access to clean water was not delayed.
With the need for a clean school environment more important than ever, Planet Water projects have also been enhanced to include a new mobile surface disinfection system called the AquaSan. This system provides schools with the capability to sanitize latrines and surfaces with chlorinated water to improve the hygiene and health of school children, providing sanitization capability to World Health Organization (WHO) standards.
Expanding Solutions to Serve the Needs of Urban Schools
Later this year, Planet Water will be expanding its reach with the launch of the AquaFill, a new water filtration system for urban schools where there is a piped water supply and electricity but where the water is not potable. Designed to support the needs of schools in large metropolitan cities, such as Mumbai, Jakarta and Hanoi, this wall mounted solution will take a municipal water supply, filter it through its three-stage system, and disperse clean drinking water via two faucets.
To deliver a more sustainable solution, each AquaFill will be accompanied by a reusable water bottle for each and every student in the recipient school with the bottle design including educational messaging wrapped around the bottle, as well as an ozone bottle rinser to ensure students also have access to properly clean their water bottles.
Recipient schools will also receive the AquaSan surface disinfection system and Planet Water’s Water Health and Hygiene Education program. For more information, visit planet-water.org or email [email protected].