Efforts to cope with a global water crisis that already has left almost 800 million people without access to drinkable water – and could engulf many more in the years ahead – are the topic of the cover story in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News. C&EN is the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
Alex Scott, C&EN’s senior editor for Europe, points out that most companies involved in water treatment technologies focus on providing services in wealthy industrialized nations. But today’s most critical shortage of clean water is impacting impoverished areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and other poor regions that can’t afford to build or sustain large-scale water purification plants. Companies that provide water purification technology find it difficult to channel R&D cash toward small-scale, inexpensive water treatment devices that won’t recoup their investment, let alone turn a profit.
The article describes innovative solutions that nevertheless are emerging. Nonprofit organizations and chemical companies, for instance, have developed and started distributing a handful of appropriate technologies. These range from simple boreholes to straws with built-in filtration systems. The technology is reaching people in rural villages around the world. Many individuals have benefited from these new technologies, which can be life-saving, but millions more are still in need, the story points out.