Recently, a person sitting next to me on a plane noticed the OBI logo on my shirt and asked me what we do. It was a long flight, so I explained the many humanitarian efforts we are engaged in. Just before we landed he asked, “Of all the ways that your organization has found to help the poor, what is the single most important strategy that you use?” I didn’t have to think for long: providing safe drinking water prevents more disease, death and human suffering than anything else we do.
Historically, we drilled thousands of wells, each providing a village with safe water and freedom from the scourge of water-borne disease. In recent years, however, the quality of ground water has dramatically changed for the worse. Contaminated aquifers have caused us to develop strategies that turn bad water into safe water.
We started using chlorine in disaster relief about ten years ago, then, following the Haiti quake in 2010, began using electrolytic technology to manufacture our own chlorine. We add salt to water, run it through specialized equipment that turns the solution into chlorine. The beauty of chlorine is that just a tiny dose (2 or 3 parts per million) kills disease-causing elements and also disinfects the containers people use to carry and store the water. Since 2010, we have deployed chlorine generators all over the world.
As I write this column, OBI teams are engaged in Nepal quake relief where safe water supplies are scarce. We are manufacturing and distributing enough chlorine to disinfect over 800,000 gallons of water a day! We use small motorcycles to deliver jugs of chlorine all over the city and charter helicopters to reach remote mountain villages where we distribute small, handheld, solar powered chlorine generators. By disinfecting contaminated drinking water we save more lives and alleviate more suffering than anything else we do.