Solar Water — One of the possible solutions to clean drinking water in Pakistan?

Seven hundred and eighty-five million people in the world lack even a basic drinking water service, including a hundred and forty-four million people who are dependent on surface water. A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) states:

“Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces. Contaminated water can transmit diseases such diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 485 000 diarrheal deaths each year.”

Due to a rapid increase in industrialization and the population of Pakistan, the quality of drinking water is deteriorating every day. Groundwater which is a major source of drinking water in Pakistan contains various pathogens including many viral, bacterial, and protozoan agents. The primary source of contamination is sewerage lines discharging into drinking water system supplies while secondary sources of pollution are the disposal of toxic chemicals from industrial effluents, pesticides, and fertilizers from agricultural sources into the water bodies. Due to the use of contaminated water, 2.5 million people in Pakistan die each year from endemic diarrheal disease alone. Around 45% of infant deaths in Pakistan are due to diarrhea while 60% because of overall infectious waterborne diseases. On average, 30% of a household’s income is spent on medical expenses resulting from these waterborne diseases.

Provincial and the federal cabinets have proposed solutions to clean drinking water in the country; however, each innovative solution requires routine maintenance for the preserve to work fully for a long period of time. Unfortunately, due to the lack of attention given to these problems in the first place, any technology implemented to solve the issue results in the problem taking back its shape – or even worse – within a short period of time. 

The current clean water options in the region is water from wells and water from Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants. Unfortunately, both the sources of water are brackish and unhealthy for long-term consumption. Furthermore, access to this water requires travelling long distances that not only take extra human labour, but also incur travel costs that add to the overall stress of receiving water in the first place. In this case, both technologies have not fulfilled the overall demand of water in the rural regions and supply still remains insufficient. 

To individually study both innovations, Reverse Osmosis plants require electricity, bigger space, are costly and do not remove certain harmful bacteria. Well water is also subject to availability and may be scarce in drier seasons over the year (keeping in mind rural areas in Sindh are almost always facing drought weather due to the immense heat). Another alternative is the lifestraw water filter which can be used individually to drink, but requires going to the water source itself. If there are no rivers or streams in the region, this technology also stands insufficient even if the jerry can filter cleans water during the distillation process. 

Solar Water provides a perfect solution to this problem as it cleans water collected from any type of water source. Whether it is wastewater or water from oceans, lakes, etc., solar water has the ability of cleaning and filtering any type of water. It uses thermal energy which makes it self-sustaining and environmentally friendly. Moreover, it requires minimal maintenance and has a lifespan of more than 20 years which makes it a better alternative to all the other available options in the market.

The impact of Solar Water varies depending on the intended audience. Advantageously, the technological units can be established in various platforms with an even larger impact; in villages and rural settlements, water technologies have not surpassed hand pumps. Solar Water can serve as a water purifier and energy provider for households and communities lacking either. With its size, it can be placed in any area, including those that are conflict prone zones since they would not have their water supply affected due to any delicate reason.

Similar to villages, slums across Pakistan are also not well-equipped by official authorities in order to receive clean, drinking water on a regular basis. Many do not even have access to water or the means to extract underground sources. Thus, solar water, as a unit, aims to cater underserved areas that are needy of drinking water channels.

Refugee camps are also places that can cater solar water units. Camps that are hard to reach due to geographical or political reasons may lack basic facilities. Safe water cannot easily be supplied by humanitarian groups by using road transport on a constant and timely basis. Thus, solar water machines can be transported in pieces and assembled at the location without the thought of constantly going back and forth to provide one of the basic facilities needed.

The units can operate in remote and small locations, and can also be scattered or grouped in one place, depending upon preference of the camp managers.The global water crisis is rising day by day, with the situation getting far worse than imagined. Unfortunately, while there have been initiatives taken to tackle this rising issue, attention given is minimal to nil, leading to the worsening of conditions. Through the study of various examples, resources and illustrations, Solar Water may possibly be the answer to the global water crisis. And a mere example may kickstart a global campaign to move towards a smart direction.