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Ahead of the SDG Curve: 16 Years of Safe, Sustainable Water Solutions

Solar panels in Mexico designed to be self cleaning.

In 2000, the world was beginning to align itself with the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which established global targets in many areas, including water accessibility. At that time, Water Mission was just a vision unfolding in the minds of our co-founders, Dr. George and Molly Greene, on their return from Honduras following Hurricane Mitch. Once Water Mission was officially established as an engineering organization, water safety and sustainability were non-negotiable success standards. Since 2001, Water Mission has continually improved our ability to serve people safe water through customized, enduring engineered solutions.

A water treatment system in Indonesia supplied via a solar powered pump.
Between 1990 and 2015, the MDGs focused on extending basic access to water, with a specific goal of cutting the proportion of global population lacking access to water in half. Access was defined in terms proximity to an “improved” water source such as a drilled or protected hand-dug well, piped water or even a protected spring. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, the target was met when 2.6 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water during this period.

Although more people have better access to water today than before 2000, the overwhelming majority of people who still lack access live in rural, remote areas. The critical challenge to extending access to these populations is that there is little infrastructure available to deliver or distribute water resources that are already scarce. Furthermore, people living in rural areas will be even more disproportionately affected by water scarcity as climate change leads to increased concentrations of microbiological contaminants in water sources.

In the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, it’s reported that an estimated 1.8 billion people are still drinking microbiologically unsafe water, which results in more than 2,300 deaths from waterborne illness every day.

Solar panels are installed at a disaster response project in Nepal.

Water Mission’s Approach Aligns with New Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2015 and 2030 aim to extend water access to remaining populations who still lack it, but also go further to ensure all water supplies are safe and sustainable. For Water Mission, the refocus parallels our pioneering work in safe water, sanitation and sustainable engineered solutions for nearly 16 years.

Safety Means Consistent Quality

From our beginning, Water Mission’s solutions have been designed to meet or exceed the WHO water quality guidelines because our founding stems from one of the largest, for-profit water quality testing companies in the U.S. Our standard procedure is to begin every project with water testing to determine the contaminants and the best treatment and custom solutions required to achieve the WHO’s guidelines. Testing is also part of ongoing operation and maintenance.

In partnership with IBM jStart, Water Mission is developing an alerting dashboard system that remotely monitors and reports – in real time – data on water projects around the world, including data on water quality, usage, and security. If an installed system signals poor quality, low pressure or other problems, field engineers and technicians can respond more quickly, within hours, to assess and solve the problem.  To date, the alerting platform has been implemented on 53 projects in 10 of countries with a full rollout scheduled in March 2017.

A solar powered pump provides water at a treatment project in Indonesia.

The Role of Solar Pumping in Achieving Sustainability

The most fundamental SDG goal shift is an emphasis on sustainability. In 2008, Water Mission installed our first solar-powered project which is still pumping safe water today. With continuous improvement in our approach, we have seen a reduction of overall lifecycle costs of more than 40% when compared to drilled boreholes fitted with hand pumps that are designed for equivalent service areas and lifespans.

Solar pumping eliminates the need for costly diesel fuel or electricity that most remote, rural communities cannot access or afford. Solar power is environmentally friendly, and well-designed solar pumping systems are resilient to the effects of climate change.

For Water Mission, the key advantages of solar-powered solutions over alternative power sources allow us to: serve more people per water point; treat, store, and distribute water from ground and surface sources; provide high levels of service in remote areas; and minimize operation and maintenance costs.

Women collect safe water from a solar-powered water project in Haiti.

Most Water Mission community-managed and disaster response installations operate on solar-powered solutions that deliver lasting, affordable service. When implemented through a comprehensive operation and maintenance strategy, solar pumping solutions are the most effective way to keep water flowing. Today, with over 1,000 solar projects installed, nearly all are still providing safe water to over a million people.

Read more about solar-powered water systems.

Water Mission has developed a proven approach to delivering safe, sustainable solutions for community development and in disaster responses. With established programs in 10 countries around the world, Water Mission is well positioned to support the UN and host nations in achieving the SDG goals of ensuring safe and sustainable access to water for all, perhaps even sooner than 2030.

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