According to UNICEF, 783 million people don’t have access to clean, safe (or, as they say ‘improved’) drinking water, which the World Health Organisation estimates leads to around 1.6 million deaths from diarrheal and parasitic diseases each year.
Part of the problem is that most current methods require countries to import expensive chemicals to improve their water, limiting the amount they can afford to produce.
But what if there was an alternative? Researchers from Penn State University have been studying a process used by the ancient Egyptians.
The Moringa oleifera tree grows abundantly throughout many tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It reaches fruition in just six months and is already being used in many areas as a food source. The seedpods, seeds, leaves, roots and flowers are all edible and nutritious.
On top of all that, there’s something in these seeds that has the ability to kill bacteria and clarify water.
Women in ancient Egypt reportedly rubbed Moringa seeds on their clay water pots, and dried powder from crushed seeds has been used as a handwash for many years.
Researchers had already established that when you crush the seeds and add them to water, a protein from the seed will kill some of the microbial organisms and cause them to clump together and settle to the bottom of the container.
Now, they’ve worked out why. The seeds actually fuse the membranes of bacterial cells together. Those membranes are the bacteria’s main protection, and this clumping disrupts the membranes causing the cells to die.
And there’s more. The researchers also worked out the best time to harvest the seeds – during rainy season.
There are still questions to be answered before the Moringa protein can be used on a large scale to purify water but, say the researchers, it’s a key step for rural communities to be able to purify their own water.
The money saved by using locally grown seeds to clarify water could then be used for other projects, and divert the money to other infrastructural needs.
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