10/05/2010versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

It looks like a teabag, but it turns dirty water into drinking water

Roughly a million people in the world have no access to sources of drinkable water, and every year contaminated water kills more people than all kinds of violence put together (source: UNEP). In order to tackle this problem, a group of researchers from South Africa's Stellenbosch University has developed a special kind of filter, in the form of a tea bag, which when placed inside a bottle's mouth transforms dirty water into perfectly drinkable water. Easy to use, highly practical and avoiding any risk of recontamination, the South African high-tech sachet has all the credentials for becoming a truly great invention.

This innovative filter was conceived and developed by Professor Eugene Cloete, microbiologist and head of the university's Science Faculty. Ex executive vice-president of the International Water Association, Cloete likes to think big.

His discovery was the fruit of years of research on water purification and studies on advanced nanotechnology and nutritional microbiology, driven by the ambitious goal of offering the sub-Saharan population without drinkable water the possibility of drinking, simply and cheaply (half a US cent per sachet, plus fractional labour and distribution costs). As Cloete puts it, "90% of the world's cholera cases are registered in Africa, and 300 million people in the continent have no safe way of quenching their thirst. I had to do something."

A worldwide study on water risks carried out last June by Maplecroft, a UK consultancy company specialised in risk management, revealed that - out of 165 nations analysed - the countries with the most precarious water reserves in the world are all in Africa... led by Somalia, Mauritania and Sudan.

A miraculous filter: Cloete's filter resembles a teabag not only in shape and size, but also in the material used to contain its ingredients: the same biodegradable tissue as used for the herbal teas we buy in supermarkets. But inside, instead of a blend of aromatic tealeaves, is a handful of active carbon granules that are capable of eliminating all trace of chemical compounds in just a few seconds. One sole filter sachet is enough to purify a litre of the most heavily polluted water and leave it 100% drinkable. Cloete is convinced that his invention represents a huge advance, because it is based on a decentralised technology and can be used in any moment by anybody.

The innovative invention is currently being evaluated by the South Africa patents office and - if all goes well - will go on sale in a few months' time. Already enthusiastic about the invention's usefulness, several humanitarian agencies - including various organisations in recently flooded Pakistan - have placed their orders for filters as soon as they go into mass production.

The Hope Project: the Stellenbosch University's filter is part of the Hope Project which - as its name implies - aims to raise hopes for survival throughout South Africa and the rest of the continent via various development initiatives. Another example is the foundation of a school, the Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health (in the Xhosa language ukwanda means ‘development', ed.), devoted to the training of practising doctors and medical personnel in rural areas of Western Cape Province.

Camilla Mastellari