By Ian Roxborough
I didn’t expect to be drinking water from the Potomac on the second day of the 8th annual TIDES tech demo at Fort McNair, but I was, and it tasted just fine. Let me introduce the two pieces of technology that made this possible. First, the Waterhippo water roller: a plastic drum holding 22 gallons of water. When a lightweight metal handle is attached it can be pulled easily and can be rolled to where the water is needed. It saves all those trips carrying water in small jugs and bowls. Since it is women that do most of the trekking back and forth, the Hippo helps liberate women from some of their backbreaking work. Second, the AQN, made and distributed by Hydrovolt and the Basilar group: a small water purification machine. It’s a cube, about two and a half feet high, that can be towed, brought in by helicopter, or manhandled easily to where it’s needed. It weighs about 450 pounds. With its own diesel power source it purifies both seawater and freshwater by reverse osmosis and can pump out thousands of gallons a day. Simple to use, it produces high-quality drinking water. I know, I drank it.
This was a marriage of lo-tech and hi-tech. The AQN was rolled across the grassy lawn of Fort McNair to where the Potomac runs by, a hose was dropped into the river, the AQN pumped water out of the Potomac, purified it, and pumped it into the Waterhippo. The 22 gallon drum was then rolled across the lawn to the tech demo site and water was there for everyone.
For lunch I had a quesadilla and rice and beans heated on a solar cooker. One of the exhibits – Solar Cookers International and Solar Household Energy – featured a startling array of cheap, lo-tech solar cookers. The idea is simple: use a reflective parabola to concentrate the sun’s energy and use it to heat your meal. Some of the stoves were neat and already manufactured, others were made out of cardboard boxes with reflective foil glued to them. There was even a small mylar-coated balloon – less than 2 ounces – you can put it in your pocket – which inflates to 4 square feet and will heat water and food using solar power. Cooking may take a bit longer, but the food tastes just as good.
Like the Waterhippo, these solar cookers are a direct help to women. In some conflict situations it’s dangerous for women to scour the surrounding countryside for firewood, as well as taking up a lot of time and energy, not to mention the negative impact on the environment. So cheap solar cookers, Waterhippos – and some hi-tech machines like the AQN – are the way forward.