Water is our lifeline that bathes us and feeds us. In ancient cultures water represented the very essence of life, and that’s because it is. We consume it every day and it is the miracle liquid that keeps our bodies functioning.
Water is the fundamental building block of all known life forms. There are organisms that can survive indefinitely without oxygen in environmental conditions including very high temperatures, near absolute zero temperatures and even radioactive vacuum of space. However, absolutely nothing can live without water.
A human body can survive 7-10 days without water depending on the person. Humans are especially vulnerable to dehydration because our bodies are made up of 75% water. We constantly lose water through sweat, urine, feces, and even in our breath. In just one day without water, dehydration occurs. After the 7 or so days without water the body will deteriorate and you will die very painfully.
If water has the capacity to enhance life, its absence has the capacity to make it miserable. Water may dominate, if not destroy lives, especially in poor countries. More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war.
More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 99%, occur in the developing world.
Water provides the Earth with the capacity of supporting life. An organism doesn’t have to be told how important water is to their existence, it’s an innate task, and it’s an instinct. The only organism that doesn’t understand the importance of water is humans, especially in industrialized countries.
Children and even adults in those societies turn on a tap, and don’t even think about the amount of effort and trouble that someone has gone into for that “miracle” to occur. For most of us, we take water for granted, without realizing that in many areas on the planet it’s considered liquid gold.
Water borne diseases are any illnesses caused by drinking contaminated water. Diseases can include infection from bacteria, viruses, or by small parasites, that eat away at your organs. As fun as these illnesses sound, the organisms and viruses can cause fatal diseases, such as: cholera, typhoid fever, malaria, botulism, polio, dysentery, giardia, and hepatitis A. One of the first symptoms of these diseases is diarrhea, which cause about three million deaths worldwide, with the majority of contamination in India, Africa, and South America.
Sewage is also another harmful substance that is widely infused within countries water supply. It can sometimes be discharged into rivers, where children downstream may be taking a bath or using the water to drink.
Without water, organisms could not exist. Water is a resource that should not be taken for granted. It needs to be conserved, just as we save other valuable resources; however, in many cases water is not deemed a “valuable” resource.
When I say no water you may only think, poor health, however, poor health, bad in itself, translates into poor economic output. “A study in Guatemala followed the lives of children in four villages from their earliest years to ages between 25 and 42. In two villages the children were given a nutritious supplement for their first seven years, and in the other pair a less nutritious one. The boys who had had the more nutritious diet in their first two years were found to have larger bodies, a greater capacity for physical work, more schooling and better cognitive skills. They also grew up to earn average wages 46% higher than the other groups.” (http://www.economist.com/node/16136260)
Water does not only have the power to control life, but also control a countries economic footprint and reputation.
Since this is at such a large scale, what can we do? How could we possibly make a change when everything seems to be so bad?
With 3.4 million people dying each year from water-related disease, our current water crisis is one of epic proportions, one that of war. At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by those suffering from illness brought on by limited access to safe drinking water and poor hygiene which is caused by the lack of access to clean water. Granted these harrowing realities torturing our society, it’s vital that we, as designers have an important role to play when finding a solution. Fortunately, we aren’t all ignoring this global crisis, and some people have already started to make a difference in providing clean drinkable water.
There are a few designs worth mentioning that aim to provide clean water by developing water purifying systems. Designs like the “Lifestraw,” a small tube containing some truly fantastic and finely tuned engineering, a true innovation. The device purifies water from potential pathogens like typhoid, cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea – all before the user consumes any liquid. A design like this one is one to be marveled at. Third world countries enduring through this crisis don’t have the money for next generation technology and high tech systems; they need to have access to cheap and effective products, such as the Lifestraw.
Similar designs such as, the Life Sack or Solarball, (http://inhabitat.com/6-water-purifying-devices-for-clean-drinking-water-in-the-developing-world/) are innovations that have been designed recently to try and help find a solution to the lack of water supply for countries in need.
On a larger scale there is a system in Peru that uses a billboard in order to produce water.
“At the edge of the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth, Lima, Peru, receives almost no rainfall. About 700,000 people have no access to clean water for drinking or bathing. Another 600,000 of the city’s 7.5 million residents rely on cisterns for their water, which must be filled by pumps or by hand and cleaned regularly.
But Lima’s Pacific Coast location experiences humidity of more than 90% on summer days, from December to February. So engineers from Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) have devised a way to turn that humid air into usable water. Last December, they erected a billboard in the Bujama District of Lima that by early March had produced 9450 litres (about 2500 gallons) of water.
The idea came about because UTEC was facing a slump in enrolment as the new semester approached; the engineering department wanted a way to attract more engineering students to the university. They went to Peruvian ad agency Mayo Publicidad, and the partnership of engineers and marketers crafted an advertisement that would provide a very visible demonstration of the university’s engineering projects. The water-collecting billboard was born.”
The simplicity behind this design is what really gets me. “Electricity from the city’s power lines runs the five condensers inside the billboard. Like the condenser in your home air conditioner, the ones in the UTEC billboard are cooler than the air outside. When air contacts the cooled surfaces of the condensers, the air also cools, and the water vapor in the air condenses into liquid water. After reverse-osmosis purification, the water flows down into a 20-liter storage tank at the base of the billboard. The billboard generates about 96 litres of water each day, and a simple faucet gives local residents access to the water. UTEC has not yet announced whether the water will be available for free, but the billboard reportedly cost only about $1200 to install.” (http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/water/a-billboard-that-condenses-water-from-humidity-15393050)
As designers we have the potentially to make a change on a large scale just with something small, and that is the beauty of design. First, we need to think of the environments surrounding the affected areas, is it a hot climate? Do they get much sun? We need to use what they already have and use it to our advantage. If their climate is rather baron, and dry and the sun is shining almost all throughout the day, then a solar or condensation device may be the answer to that problem. We can’t solve all the affected countries problems with one design, as all their circumstances will vary.
Second of all, we will need to take into consideration, that of the population. Will the device or product need to be made in bulk to accommodate on a large scale or will large systems need to be introduced into a community that everyone works together to make possible; there are so many considerations to take. Anyone can design a product or draw a pretty picture; it takes a lot of research in order to design something worthy of use. There is no better solution to finding a solution than going in head first into the problem – completely immerse you within the crisis.
We will not be able to design or create an effective system, without first experiencing what’s wrong with the system ourselves. It’s like designing a product to fit onto the body, you could draw and draw and research as much as you could, but in the end unless you physically make a prototype you will never truly know how to design the ergonomic shape. Design is thought be a bunch of people who like to draw pretty things, and that is certainly part of it. What many people don’t understand is that design can be implemented throughout all areas of arts and academics.
This is not a permanent problem, it’s not like it needs to be like this. There is a lot to be done and although it may appear as an unrealistic goal to work for we can’t give up yet. It doesn’t matter who you are, designer or not, if you have a way to effectively make a change, do it.