Water Purifying Technology Project

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Location: Madurai District, India

Background

Safe drinking water is essential for healthy living. The majority of waterborne diseases result from exposure to contaminated or impure water sources and disproportionately affect women and children in rural areas. As water sources grow increasingly scarce, researchers and scientists are looking at all types of innovative solutions for large scale cost effective water purification UNICEF has discovered that one of the best ways of getting clean drinking water without wasting any energy is keeping the water in glass bottles on sunny roofs for 24 hours, the sun kills 99.9% of the deadly e-coli bacteria.

India is popular for indigenous water resource management, traditional water purification technology and conventional methods used by agrarian and indigenous communities. However the younger generation are unaware of the traditional methods and still opt for mineral water sold in the market. It has been proven that traditional techniques are capable of removing acidic components from the water and thereby bringing about a pH balance.

Foundation fro Research and Sustainable Development (FRSD) is eager to revitalize these traditional water purifying methods, by disseminating this traditional technology to various voluntary organizations, women’s groups, local Panchayats, Government agencies and educational institutions in the State of Tamil Nadu, India, to ensure that rural people, especially women and children get access to safe drinking water.

Rationale

In India, contaminated drinking water, polluted river water and unsafe well water remain a major cause of morbidity and mortality in rural areas with 1.8 million deaths per year being attributed to water-borne diseases. In Tamil Nadu, the situation is particularly bad in part because of the increase in child mortality caused by waterborne diseases. The rural and indigenous communities have forgotten the ancient wisdom, traditional science and cultural heritage. Lack of access to clean water remains a big challenge in rural pockets since modernization of agriculture and chemical fertilizers and pesticides have caused immense damage to soil and water resources.

Today, the drinking water comes from surface and ground water. Large-scale water supply systems depend on surface water resources, and smaller water systems depend on ground water.

The need of the hour is an environmentally sustainable, cost effective solution for potable water purification at home to benefit our communities drinking microbiologically contaminated impure water.

Inspiration for this Project

Since ancient times, the need for pure water resulted in the development of water purification methods. Ancient civilizations that developed early water purification methods include those located in Africa, Asia, particularly India, and the Middle East, and Europe. Between 4000 B.C. and 1000 A.D., different natural minerals were used to purify water. To disinfect water, many ancient cultures would use copper, iron or hot sand in conjunction with boiling it. Herbs were often used in well filtration, such as amla, which is high in vitamin C, and khus. Plants were sometimes used to purify water, such as water lily roots and the seeds of the nirmali (Strychnos potatorum).In ancient Egypt, aluminum sulfate, iron sulfate or a mix of the two was used to extract suspended solids. In Greece, a fabric bag, called the Hippocrates Sleeve, was used to strain water before boiling it. In ancient India, sand and gravel were used to filter water before boiling it. This method was from the Sanskrit manuscript called the Susruta Samhita. Certain metals disrupt bacteria cycles, including copper. In ancient India, brass, an alloy of copper and zinc and sometimes with other metals, was used to store water. The ancient Greeks and Romans used basins or reservoirs as a means to let particles settle out of water.(Source: Purifying Water the Green Way by Rajiv Gupta).

Natural plant extracts have been used for water purification for many centuries. Most of these extracts are derived from the seeds, leaves, pieces of bark or sap, roots and fruit extracts of trees and plants. For example, Strychnos potatorum was used as a purifier between the 14th and 15th centuries BC. Seeds of the nirmali tree were used to clarify turbid river water about 4000 years ago in India. 

Goals and Objectives

Main Goal

The project aims to rediscover the ancient, traditional methods of sustainable water purification using locally available medicinal plants, seeds and tubers that cleanse water while retaining its natural benefits.

Long Term Goal

The project aims to deliver time tested, low carbon, non -chemical, traditional water purification technology practiced by ancestors for the benefit of humanity. The traditional technology has been proven and widely acknowledged by contemporary researchers considering the urgent need for pure drinking water. The technology can be scaled up and can be delivered to rural and urban people on a large scale with moderate investment.

Objectives

The primary objective of this initiative is to overcome one of the limitations of the present water purification processes by demonstrating that traditional techniques using medicinal plants, seeds, tubers and trees can selectively remove targeted contaminants in water such as salts, metals, and acids. The following strategies have been planned:

  • Develop simple treatment techniques (Green Technology)/Community water purification to provide safe, hygienic and potable water to communities in rural areas to mitigate drinking water crisis.

  • Conduct workshops on traditional methods of water purifying techniques with practical demonstrations on purifying water with natural filtration (simple and rudimentary treatment techniques using herbs, seeds, tubers and branches of medicinal trees) so as to collect sufficient data on traditional water purification techniques used by rural people.

  • Establish a social enterprise for 50 rural women to create sustainable livelihoods and scale the activity after receiving technical and business training.

  • Introduce the method in all rural schools with the help of District Administrations to ensure schools break the cycle of unsafe drinking water.

  • Emphasize this low-cost alternative traditional technologies instead of costly investments in water purification so that rural communities are assured of pure potable water free of all pathogens and toxic substances.

  • Encourage traditionally used local practices which can be easily adapted by rural and indigenous communities to reduce the morbidity and mortality rate caused by waterborne diseases.

  • Encourage Panchayats to plant indigenous trees, such as Barringtonia acutangula, around water bodies (ponds, tanks and community wells) to purify drinking water.

  • Encourage research and development on traditional water purification technology by pharmacologists in Pharmacy Colleges in the country to validate the knowledge and standardization of indigenous practices.

  • Publish Books in Tamil giving details on the traditional water purification methodology so that the technology can be easily practiced at home by rural masses, especially rural women and safeguard them from waterborne diseases.

Target Area and Community for the Pilot Project

FRSD has targeted a particular rural block in Madurai district, a region facing a growing risk of water borne diseases, cases of cholera, pneumonia, and various viral infections. The River Vaigai is currently running dry throughout the year and as it was the only source of drinking water and a major source for irrigation a new alternative must be found. The district has shown a willingness to use copper vessels used in households for drinking water storage. Copper can destroy undesirable virus and bacteria. When copper dissolves in water, water becomes ionic (electrolyte) as can be ascertained by its pH measurement. The micro-organisms are eradicated, this is called the Oligodynamic effect. The intention is to revitalize, revive and rejuvenate an ancient practice to ensure healthy living in rural areas and document the natural biological filtration techniques for the welfare of the community.

Methodology

The primary objective is to overcome the limitations of current water purification processes by demonstrating that traditional techniques using medicinal plants, seeds, tubers and trees can selectively remove targeted contaminants in water such as salts, metals, and acids.

FRSD plans to accelerate refining the traditional technology of water purification through field trials, demonstrations in rural and urban areas, public awareness building and training of trainers (TOT) and by encouraging research. They also plan to conduct interviews, discussions and deliberations with elders in rural areas and tribal leaders who are conversant with ancient wisdom on water resource management, traditional purification of water and indigenous agricultural practices.  

The following strategies have been planned:

  1. Collecting and assessing all relevant data on traditional water purification methods used by rural and indigenous tribes (Western Ghats range of mountains) in southern Tamilnadu, India and documenting them for dissemination and further evidence-based research.

  2. Recommendations for settling on a sanitary supervision system assuring the safety of drinking water towards chemicals used in its production and from materials in contact with water during treatment, storage and distribution to local people involving local Panchayats.

  3. Undertaking the following activities:

    Awareness Education in all targeted villages to revive our ancient traditional methods on water purification at households.

    Printing of booklets in Tamil language briefing the traditional methods with illustrations and simple techniques.

    Providing support to rural communities with necessary training, equipment and seed money for initiating the activity in (ten) targeted villages. 

    Training NGOs/poor Rural Women on social enterprises for traditional purification methods using seeds, woods and herbs for income generation and forming a Network of NGOs to deal with drinking water crisis in sensitive rural areas.

    Disseminating the project and its results through the FRSD website so that the activity can be replicated in other districts of Tamilnadu.

    Encouraging research and development on the traditional technology by young scholars in Universities and Research Organizations.

    Persuading local schools, educational institutions, Panchayats and other administrative bodies to adapt traditional method of purification of drinking water and encourage the activity throughout the year with the help of Traditional Medical Practitioners.

    Making suitable arrangements in vulnerable rural schools to ensure students get pure drinking water and designating a teacher to sustain the activity.

Pilot Project Duration: 12 months 

Partnership/Guidance/Linkages 

  1. Gandhigram Rural University, Gandhigram

  2. Local NGOs in Madurai District.

  3. Tribal Associations, Farmers Associations and Water community

  4. Traditional Medical Practitioners Associations in Tamilnadu

  5. Research Institutions in various colleges and universities.

Project Partner:

Foundation for Research and Sustainable Development

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