There are plenty of wells in Iraq, but the dead animals dumped there when Saddam Hussein was in power have contaminated them. There are plenty of streams in southeast Asia, but the recent tsunami polluted them with salt from the ocean.
How do you quench someone's thirst when there is plenty of water, but not a drop of it is drinkable? It's a question that NASA researchers have pondered for nearly two decades, but villagers in Iraq and tsunami victims in Asia will get a taste of their answer as early as this fall -- before any astronaut in space does.
The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, has been testing a device intended for the space station that would recycle astronauts' sweat, respiration and even urine into drinking water purer than any found in a tap.
Reno, Nevada-based investment firm Crestridge and the charity Concern for Kids are developing the systems for humanitarian purposes in nations lacking a reliable water supply.
Robert Anderson, vice president and international projects director for Concern for Kids, said he began looking into water recycling technology two years ago because of the huge expenses necessary to carry water to Iraqi villages by tanker truck.
Eventually, he reached the company that held the patent on the technology being developed for the space agency.
For US$29,000 in equipment costs and less than US$0.0079 a liter, a trailer-mounted recycling device can travel from village to village, turning a well's unclean water into something suitable for drinking.
Crestridge plans to break ground on the first manufacturing plant for the earth-based water processing devices as soon as next month.