By Melissa Wray
On a mission to bring clean drinking water to the rural poor, two enthusiastic Americans recently demonstrated the effectiveness of an award-winning water purification product at an algae-infested animal drinking hole near Hoedspruit. Ron Rhodes and Ron Hicks, both highly successful businessmen in America and united by their strong Christian faith, are hoping to use the Moditlo Wildlife Estate near Hoedspruit as a base to create a distribution programme for the PûR water purification product, using a network of missionaries in southern Africa.
They plan on bringing other wealthy American businessmen out to Ron Rhodes' house on Moditlo and from there show them some of the problems faced by the rural poor, in the hopes that they will help fund the project. The two Rons, together with Hoedspruit based Andre Pelser, will then arrange for the water purifier to be distributed to missionaries working in rural areas. Ron Hicks says the plan is to create a network that can take PûR out to areas where normal distribution networks don't reach, and create a sustainable local infrastructure that can ensure clean water for people.
At the waterhole on Moditlo, a bucketful of water was scooped up - full of mud and algae and tiny bugs. Ron Hicks added the contents of a sachet of PûR - four grams can purify 10 litres of water - and then followed the simple procedure to make clean drinking water.
After the PûR is added to the water, it must be stirred for five minutes. Just before the five minutes is up, the water gets noticeably darker, and as stirring stops, all the suspended matter falls to the bottom of the container - in this case a stringy clump of all the silt and algae.
The PûR contains two main ingredients - iron sulphate and calcium hypochlorite. The iron compound is a flocculant, which is a chemical that causes all the floaty bits in the water to clump together. The other compound releases chlorine, which kills the harmful organisms in the water. The process is essentially the same as a town's water purification system, just on a micro scale.
The water was then filtered through a cloth. The manufacturers recommend using a 100 percent cotton cloth, and at the demonstration a tea towel was pressed into service. The filtered water can then immediately be drunk, although a waiting period of 20 minutes ensures that all the germs in the water are dead.
Everyone at the waterhole took a sip of the clean water, which just five minutes before looked totally repulsive. The water tasted slightly chemical, but this taste decreased with time. Ron said that once purified, the water can be stored for use for up to a week.
He added that the only time that the water is not safe to drink is if it turns yellow after the five minutes of stirring - this usually indicates chemical pollution in the water, such as from mines or industrial processes. The small sachets are also ideal for hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts who would otherwise have to carry drinking water. Ron says, "For US$1.50, a family of five can be kept in clean drinking water for a year."
He hopes to generate enough support for his fledgling initiative to create a sustainable distribution system far off the beaten track. He feels that with so much attention focussed on Aids in Africa, not enough attention is given to the fact that over two million children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by drinking unsafe water. The next step in the two Rons' plan is to bring out Radhika Mittapalli, who has worked as a missionary in Botswana and Mozambique, so that she can begin making contacts in the area and discover those most in need.
The PûR water purifier is made by industrial giant Procter & Gamble, and has been awarded the 2005 Stockholm Industry Water Award in recognition of its effectiveness in making safe drinking water for those who do not have access to potable water, and for its use in disaster relief.
Procter & Gamble shipped 15 million sachets of PûR to the victims of last year's tsunami in south east Asia, and have organised distribution of the product in the Philippines, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan, Haiti, Liberia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Chad, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Iran, Ethiopia and Iraq. Last year they teamed up with Unicef to create the Children's Safe Drinking Water Programme, in which Procter & Gamble provides PûR at cost.