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Water, water everywhere

And for some not a drop to drink

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Compare that to the true minimum need of clean water for human survival that has been set by international agencies: 3 to 5 litres per day for drinking, with another 20 litres per day for cooking, bathing and basic cleaning. That’s about 650 litres less than you and I use every day.

It also means the world community is looking at trying to supply some additional 125 million litres of clean water every day in south Asia until proper infrastructures can be put in place for those impacted by the tsunami.

A nation of water pigs offers up some solutions

When it comes to world aid, Canada has a reputation for providing sanitation and drinking water primarily because of its Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), created to fly into disaster areas around the world to provide drinking water and medical treatment until long-term aid arrives. The team, composed of some 200 Canadian Forces soldiers, was set up by the military in 1996 because of their experience in Rwanda two years earlier, when international relief organizations arrived too late to save thousands of people from a cholera epidemic.

Right now, DART is on its way to Sri Lanka to help tsunami victims there. Besides the medical aid stations they set up, DART water purification staff can produce up to 50,000 litres of potable water a day. The technology they use is the brainchild of a Canadian company, ZENON Environmental Inc. based in Oakville, Ont.

If you caught Bruce Mau’s Massive Change exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, you no doubt walked away with some idea of the disparity between the haves and have-nots of the world. You might also have noticed a little plastic bottle of drinking water called NEWater from Singapore. But this was no regular bottled water.

Municipal water managers take note: NEWater is recycled sewage water, rendered drinkable after being treated by ultra-violet light and being processed through long spaghetti-like strands of a special membrane that were also on display – strands of ZeeWeed from ZENON. In Singapore, the stigma of drinking one’s own toilet water is secondary to the practicality of supplying fresh water to a lot of people who have none of their own. (Singapore must pipe all its fresh water in from the Malay Peninsula, a source of constant concern for many of the 4.2 million Singaporeans who inhabit this tiny 700-sq-km island nation.)