Solving Water Scarcity

Karishma Bhagani, undergraduate student at University of New York, shares her passion for providing access to clean drinking water in countries suffering from water scarcity. Karishma created the aspiring non-profit organization Matone de Chiwit, which provides economical water purification units comprised of domestically available elements to rural communities.


Karishma Bhagani:

I would just like to start off by saying thank you, thank you very much for having me here today. I am truly honored and privileged to be speaking in front of you all today. I also want to take the chance to give a special shout out to my family back home who couldn't be here with me today, but they are the people that I pay all my respects to for making me the person that I am. Thank you Chrissy for being here as well.


I want to speak a little bit about Matone de Chiwit, which is my aspiring non-profit organization and social enterprise. Matone de Chiwit means drops of life in three different languages, originating from three continents in the world that suffer most from water scarcity. Matone means drops in Swahili, which represents Kenya and Africa. De means of in Spanish, which represents Latin America, and Chiwit means life in Thai, which represents Asia. As I said, these are the three continents in the world that suffer most from water scarcity.


It takes a child in Kenya an average of three hours to fetch one liter of water. Note that this is not clean drinking water, neither is it drinking water, it is just water. 43% of the Kenyan population does not have access to a clean drinking water source. 70% of this population is illiterate and lives in a rural context.


Let me ask you the real question, how long did you take to fill the glass of water or the bottle of water that you're drinking from today?


As I said earlier, there is a major problem with the water sources in Kenya. I'm going to focus especially on Kenya because this where this project is taking off and I am a proud Kenyan, fourth generation to be precise. There are a lot of different sources that are available in urban and rural areas. The graphs on the side will show you improved and unimproved.


Just to paint a little bit of a brighter picture, improved sources does not mean that the water is potable. It does not mean that it is safe for consumption according to the World Health Organization standards. In rural areas there are a lot of unimproved sources, which include things like river water, pond, lakes nearby. This is where individuals walk and trek three to four hours a day to get access to clean drinking water.


If you think about productivity scale, let me do a little bit of a survey here. How many of you think that you're very, very organized and efficient with your time management skills, and if I gave you 10 assignments to write 10 papers, you could do it in three to four hours? Okay, let's say five papers, like one-page papers? Three to four hours if you were to focus on it, right?


If we were to put that in context and say that you can finish five one-page response papers in three to four hours, and this child is still just walking to get water that wouldn't even last them for a day, is so incredibly outrageous to me. I just don't understand that personally because I consider myself a little bit more efficient than average and I could do so much in three hours, and I'm so grateful I don't have to walk three hours to get water.


A lot of the times, we're all very unaware of the privilege and the opportunities that we have access to. We can just turn on our tap or our faucet and have water. People don't have faucets back home, people don't have that running pipeline supply. It's just a matter of walking.


When it comes to existing solutions, there are a lot in the market. There are things like Aquatabs, a lot of chlorine filters, desalination units, but they're so expensive. An average GDP, which is the yearly earning for an average Kenyan, is less than $200. So if we think about how much it cost for a desalination unit, to power it just electrically in a month, that's $200,000 Kenyan schillings, that's about $2000 a month. If we put that into perspective, it's very, very difficult for people to afford it and to have to keep going into local kiosks to buy chlorine tablets that they cannot afford on a daily basis.


The solution in this case was for me to create a cost-effective water purification unit that's easily accessible by rural communities. At the time of creation of this project, I was a freshman in high school and the country was drought-stricken. The northern part of the country was drought-stricken and the coastal regions, which is where I'm from ... I'm from Mombasa, Kenya ... Well, there was a lot of flooding going on, so there was a rampant spread of diseases like typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, diarrhea because of stagnant water, pathogens in waters, disease-spreading microorganisms, and such.


So I thought, how do we help the country increase its productivity, help kids keep going back to school, and assure that people are attending their work or their commitments, but then also ensure that they have access to clean drinking water? That's where Montone de Chiwit comes into play, where we use the domestic and traditional elements for our units that are available and are already bought on a regular basis for individuals in family context.


So things like charcoal, they use it to heat their food. That's something that's part of the purification unit. All together, it cost less than $20 to create. The throughput time, which is all the elements when the water passes and also the last element, which I'll walk you through just now, is five liters in an hour. Which means if we were to take about eight hours in day, we can produce about 40 liters of water in a day per family and it's good for a family of five.


This is the first stage. The first stage would be gravel, which is the first element, and that separates the leaves and twigs and just larger impurities in the water. This is mainly aimed for unimproved sources, places like ponds and lakes where there's a lot of these kind of dirty elements.


Then you have sand, which is the second element. Sand is to capture the turbidity and much finer elements. In fact, it takes the longest time to purify. Sand is the element that takes the longest to purify and large pathogens can be captured in the sand.


The third element is charcoal. I like to say this is the most controversial element because I've had a lot of questions about why not using activated carbon and why charcoal pieces instead? The reason why is because using charcoal pieces means that the charcoal is porous, which is what captures the color and the odor from the water. Activated carbon cost about $30 a gram. This cost less than $.10 for 18 months worth of supplies.


The final layer is cotton cloth. So each of these purification layers do have cotton cloth and gauze, but our final layer, the top part of the purification unit is cotton cloth for any minor impurities or any other parts of the water that have not been purified in the previous elements. And then all the water accumulates in a bucket at the bottom and I'll show you a diagram of the purification ... an actual photograph of the purification unit later on, but it accumulates in a bucket where Moringa oleifera is added.


Now Moringa oleifera is dried seed kernels of drumsticks. Not chicken KFC drumsticks, but the plants. Oftentimes they're weeds, they're removed from a lot of different gardens and farms, but they are very, very effective because they have natural antioxidants that rid the water of pathogens by binding to them which you can then sieve out.


These are the couple of purification units that I had the opportunity to produce on a mass scale and see whether or not they worked qualitatively. So we received a sponsorship from Davis and Shirtliff, which is a water company back home that provides filters to domestic families, to see whether or not this would actually work in the rural community. There were a lot of challenges. This project failed over thrice. There was a lot of challenges I did face, and there was with the experimentation process. It's great to hypothesize and keep hypothesizing, but then if it doesn't work in practicality then you've got to go back to the drawing and figure out the theory, so that was part of the biggest lesson that I learned throughout the process.


A lot of the community members ... This is Kadija. I donated it to her when we donated one of the units to her and she was just completely awestricken. She didn't know that this could happen. She was very shocked that you could use natural elements to purify the water and then she exclaimed after trying a little bit of it because we did a demo, that it was "tamu sana", which in Swahili is, "It was very sweet."


It all starts with a drop of water and the biggest point that I want to draw here is that it's not only about providing access to to clean drinking water at one's doorstep, but that means that there's room for people to work with their jobs, get new careers, handle their families, and for children to get an education. This is the actual aim and hope of this entire mission and our project is to be able to provide access to basic needs to people around the world in impoverished communities, so that they have time to pursue their world desires and their other needs, and have families, and get jobs.


We're also working with a lot of students around the world to raise awareness and conservation efforts to raise awareness about what we're doing and also ensure that our message is spread out so that they can get involved in the most littlest and the largest of ways. Because we're all drops in the sea - but one drop makes a million ripples and that's what it's about, ripple effects.


Thank you.

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