Israeli tech helping with water crises all across the globe

The latest is an Israeli invention that’s offering clean water in cholera-stricken Cameroon.

One of the biggest cholera outbreaks in history took place in Victorian England in 1854, killing nearly 100,000 people. Steven Johnson's bestselling book, "The Ghost Map," tells the tale of a maverick British physician who – for the first time – figured out that it was the polluted drinking water that was making everybody sick. His findings inspired fundamental changes in the water and waste systems of London, which led to similar changes in other cities and a significant improvement in general public health around the world. For his work, he was called the father of epidemiology.

But even more than a century later, there are still parts of the world that don't have access to clean drinking water – whether it's in Western Pennsylvania where some communities have seen their wells contaminated with fracking fluid or in poor countries where waste management systems are not up to the modern standard. One such area is the nation of Cameroon, which has experienced a cholera outbreak this summer.

Humanitarian aid organizations from across the globe have rushed to the scene to help, offering medical expertise and other support. One such group is an Israeli company called NUFiltration, which has created a device that turns contaminated rivers into purified drinking water. The trick was actually not inventing a new device at all, but simply finding a new purpose for an existing piece of medical equipment.

NUF turns a medical-grade dialyzer into a clean water filter. NUF turns a medical-grade dialyzer into a clean water filter. (Photo: Courtesy)

With the insight of a doctor at the Tel Aviv University medical school, the team discovered the magic of dialysis filters. The disposable product can be found at just about any hospital. These simple items could be used to purify water. The filters remove bacteria from polluted water sources, thus preventing cholera. The filters do not require electricity, are portable and can be used for up to three years. The United Nations has tested the filter and has authorized its use in refugee camps in the Congo and Mali.

In recent years, the Caesarea-based NUFiltration has also brought its system to the Ghanan island community of Pediatorkorpe. The villagers had been suffering kidney failures due to the polluted water. "There is a before and there is an after," explained Professor Nathan Levin, one of the most well-known nephrologists in the world. "Before, there is infection. There is dehydration, in spite of all effort. And after, all this disappeared."

"As soon as you start to pump the water from the river, immediately you get clean water to drink and that was like a miracle for the people," said Omri Cohen, a technical manager at NUF, who was involved in the Ghana mission. "The reaction was truly amazing."

NUF's Omri Cohen, center, taught the Ghanan villagers to operate the pump so they could continue to have clean water after he left. NUF's Omri Cohen, center, taught the Ghanan villagers to operate the pump so they could continue to have clean water after he left. (Photo: YouTube)

NUFiltration is just the latest in a string of Israeli companies that have assisted in bringing clean water to much-needed areas across the globe. An Israeli startup called Water-Gen helped out last year after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island of Puerto Rico. Their machine actually creates clean water out of thin air. It works like a home humidifier, but instead captures and cleans the moisture. A Florida town is also using the device to help better prepare for disaster relief after future hurricanes.

Israeli entrepreneur Max Simonovsky is using a similar technique with his company. Called Soapy, the startup is installing handwashing units that take air from the sky and instantly turn it into water. “We are trying to make the units as cheap as possible as we improve them, and to make them sustainable for very deprived communities.”

Wisconsin – which is home to two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior – has invited Israeli startups that focus on water technology to test their products in the Midwestern state. The collaboration is the result of a trip to Israel taken by delegates from the state along with Gov. Scott Walker.

The initial set of projects will focus on a variety of areas, some of which will help detect contaminants in storm water runoff and remove pollutants from the state's water. “These partnerships will strengthen the sector in both countries, and are expected to open new markets to water technology companies in Wisconsin and Israel," Walker said.

The partnership involves several institutions on both continents – including the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University in the U.S. and Ben-Gurion University in Israel. The latter is home to the Zuckerberg Institute, Israel's largest and leading water institute, which has sent students all across the globe to help with water scarcity issues. Wisconsin is following in the footsteps of California and Nevada, two states that are already taking advantage of partnerships with Israeli water tech companies.

Seth Siegel, a former brand consultant for Hanna-Barbera cartoons, became an expert in the intricacies of Mediterranean water management. His book, "Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution for a Water-Starved World," landed on both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists and garnered Siegel an invite to speak at Google's headquarters. "Around the world, the rapidly growing number of water-stressed communities can learn from Israel's example," he told From The Grapevine. He cited several Israeli technologies as examples of what other countries should look at – including drip irrigation, low-flush toilets and desalination.

Through the course of 250 pages, Siegel weaves the narrative of how a group of offbeat inventors and radical thinkers – including an opera singer who became a sewage expert – created some of the world's most defining and lasting water technologies. "Lo and behold, I discovered that Israel has the world's most sophisticated water system," he told us. "It's a really inspiring story."


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Related Topics: Humanitarian