For most us, drinking water comes in one form: from the tap. Fifty-seven percent of the world's population now have running water in their homes, according to World Health Organization statistics (2010). More than 80 percent of the global population has access to water from "safer, improved sources." Of course, organizations like Water.org will remind us that those statistics seem overly encouraging, since approximately 1 in 10 people in the world (at least 663 million people) still lack consistent, dependable access to potable water.
Where water insecurity is most evident, say researchers, is in the dry, remote areas of the sub-Sahara and undeveloped regions of Oceania. At least 50 percent of the population in these parts of the world still struggles to get consistent access to clean, potable water.
Those numbers are even more stirring when you consider the latest rage to hit Indiegogo: A self-refilling water bottle by Fontus that produces the indispensable liquid straight from air.
What is interesting, however, isn't that this little gem can pull water from air. After all, that's an old concept. Communities have been collecting water from condensation for years. Fog fences, air wells and dew collectors have been around for centuries and fueled the impetus for companies like WaterGen, a startup from Israel that produces atmospheric water generators to fuel military forces in remote areas.
What I find most interesting about Fontus' phenomenal success is the consumer base that is fueling its growth: recreational athletes. And it's not just any recreational sports junkie, but the independent, get-out-on-your-own hiker, cyclist, and boater that doesn't want to contend with camel-back bottles, backup desalination systems, or hauling extra gallons of water to rendezvous points. It's the weekend traveler who pitches a tent in a remote camping area, the bicyclist who knows that climate change means more forethought about water resources on the extended trek, and the boat cruiser who sets out for that two-month journey or that leisurely sail to the lee side of the nearby island.
It's the guy -- or more accurately, the clamoring crowd -- that want to get out and away from it all and experience that undeveloped, rugged beauty that is disappearing at an alarming rate.
Within one week of launching its campaign in March, Fontus had exceeded its $30,000 goal. As of this week, the company raised 10 times its target. According to Kristof Retezar, Fontus' founder, the money raised will go toward mass production of two prototypes, both of which are positioned for success. The Fontus Ryde addresses the common dilemma of the cyclist who likes to have the water bottle at her fingertips. Its ingenious concept uses the bike to speed up condensation that is produced with the help of a miniature solar panel. The Fontus Aero works for hikers and boaters and while slower at accomplishing its goal, is compact and easy to carry.
The fine print for both of these models is that patience is a true virtue when it comes to savoring that glass of water. The two bottles work best in humid conditions. Even then, it will probably take the whole day to generate the gallon minimum that WHO says is necessary to sustain a person. So those arid, blissfully sunny days that draw us outdoors won't be the ideal conditions for producing a "quick" glass of H2O.
Still, what is encouraging about Fontus' technology is its modest beginning toward increasing water security. Sports has served as a great launch pad for technology that could answer at least some of the world's water woes. Assuming Fontus continues to do well after the crowdfunding, it would be great if the company were to turn its sights toward developing models that would help the almost 20 percent of the world that is still at risk from polluted drinking water and other environmental challenges. The answer to water insecurity may not necessarily be what's in the ground, but what's in the air.
Image credit: Flickr/Akihito Fujii
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.
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