By Ben Park
"Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink."
- Samuel Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
Coleridge was describing a sea journey when he wrote these words in the late 18th century. But those same words, slightly updated for modern times, could be used to describe the Philippines after the 2013 typhoon or Haiti after flooding in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
While scarcity due to climactic and economic conditions receives the bulk of attention, there is another form of water crisis that comes on the heels of natural and man-made disasters: too much water of the wrong kind.
Less than 3 percent of the Earth's water is fresh, and only 0.3 percent of that water is found on the Earth's surface in lakes, rivers, streams and ponds. When natural disaster strikes, the sources of improved, fresh water are compromised. In the case of the Philippines where fresh water was already in limited supply during normal conditions, the situation becomes desperate.
After the typhoon, the Associated Press reported that Filipinos "resorted to scooping from streams, catching rainwater in buckets and smashing open pipes to obtain what is left from disabled pumping stations. With at least 600,000 people homeless, the demand is massive."
Water comprises 65 to 75 percent of human body weight. Humans can last only three to five days without it. In disasters, victims often resort to whatever source of water they can find -- leading to diseases such as cholera, which can kill a person within days.
Agencies such as the Red Cross are at the ready to provide essential water, but the amount of assistance they can provide is inhibited by one major factor: Water is heavy (a gallon of it weighs 8.34 pounds) and expensive to ship.
A French company called Eole Water is using wind turbines to create water from air. A prototype system near Abu Dhabi has been able to collect an average of more than 62 liters of water an hour from dry desert air.
EcoloBlue makes generators that extract water from the humidity in the air and use a multi-filtering process to ensure cleanliness. An EB26 system can be combined with a solar generator to produce between one and three gallons of clean water a day.
Another potential solution, called the Watercone, is a simple and elegant solar still. Pour salty or brackish water into the pan, then place the Watercone on top. The black pan absorbs the sunlight and heats the water. The evaporated water condensates into droplets of clean water that trickle down the inner wall into a trough at the outer edge of the cone.
But the weight of water also effects the logistical cost of shipping IV-hydration solutions used to treat water-borne disease. These bags contain 99.1 percent water. It costs more than $700, for example, to ship 14 units of 1-liter saline IV bags from San Francisco to Conakry, Guinea in Africa via the FedEx for medical devices rate.
Fortunately there is a solution at hand for cheaper shipping and easier storage of saline IV bags. Fosmo Med offers Maji, a field hydration system for IV use that is shipped without water. An estimated 16 Maji bags can be shipped for the same cost as one traditional IV saline bag. Once onsite, forward osmosis technology converts local water into a sterile solution without requiring power of any kind.
Ben Park is the founder and CEO of Fosmo Med.