Inventor stories: LIFESAVER, the lifesaving water filter

Yet outbreaks of cholera and other such diseases spread by unsanitary conditions remain a constant threat to the 1.3 million survivors of January's earthquake. Similarly, although the situation appears to be under control in Haiti, for the time being at least, such epidemics are by no means unique.

Throughout this blog series I have talked about the inventive solutions highlighted by the 15 leading products currently on display in the British Library's 'Inventing the 21st Century' exhibition. Like the other 14, this week's invention demonstrates an innovative approach to a basic problem, yet the widespread application of this particular product has the potential to save literally millions of lives by providing safe drinking water to the victims of natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and preventing the spread of disease.

Inspired by the horrific events of the 2005 Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2006, Michael Pritchard felt angry that despite living in a technologically advanced world, we still lacked the ability to provide victims with immediate access to the most basic of survival supplies - clean drinking water. Analysing the challenge Michael, a water treatment expert, identified two major obstacles.

Firstly, transporting the necessary supplies of water to victims is a logistical nightmare.  The cost of daily deliveries is astronomical and those affected are often impossible to reach. For this approach to work those displaced by such disasters must be brought to large scale camps, presenting a whole range of new challenges for aid workers to manage.

Secondly, supply of water in such circumstances is often not the problem. The real challenge is preventing people drinking the dirty water supplies that surround them. The key is to find a way of enabling victims to purify their own water at source. However, often unable to read the instructions, those provided with flocculation tablets have been known to take them orally rather than use them correctly, resulting in hospitalisation and widespread withdrawal.

Michael's product, the LIFESAVER water bottle, uses the principle of reverse osmosis and a series of carbon filters to remove all known bacteria and viruses as well as dirt from water. Activated using a hand pump, the air fed through the system pressurises the water and forces it through the various filters, producing roughly 4,000 litres of clean water per unit. Once used, to avoid contamination the filter prevents users from filtering any more water. Available in 1.5 litre bottles and five-gallon jerry cans, the LifeSaver can provide up to six months supply before requiring a filter change.

With generous donations from Chris Anderson and Jacqueline Novogratz of TED, in September of this year Michael was able to road test the impact of his invention by taking thousands of units out to help assist with the Pakistani flood relief efforts. Taking just 15 minutes to demonstrate how to use, Michael and his team were able to distribute units across some of the key affected areas and provide access to clean water for an estimated 100,000 people. Having helped in Pakistan, LifeSavers are now being deployed by a variety of charities in Haiti.

If you don't believe the revolutionary potential of Michael's invention you have to watch the demonstration he gave at last year's TED conference. [We at Smarta highly recommend you watch this! It's unbelievable.]

Convinced? Demonstrating the ability of innovation to save lives, if you would like to support Michael and his mission, or even purchase your own LIFESAVER, then check out the LIFESAVER Sytems website:

Inventor stories is a series based on products featured in the British Library's 'Inventing the 21st Century' exhibition.

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