This Straw Purifies Water As A Person Drinks It, And It Has The Potential To Revolutionize Global Access To Clean Water — PHOTOS

The LifeStraw is a lightweight, portable drinking straw that purifies water as its user drinks. The device, which can be worn around the neck or tucked into a pack, has the potential to radically alter your backpacking trips, eliminating the need to carry around heavy bottles of water or use purifying chemicals. Even better, the Life Straw has the potential to make clean water available to people who lack drinkable water resources all over the world. Not bad for a 20 dollar filter, right?

The LifeStraw looks like a basic tube, 9 inches long and an inch wide. It works by catching disease-causing pathogens within a hollow fiber membrane; users simply put one end in a water source (such as a stream or lake) and then suck filtered water through the other. The fiber membrane filters water through pores of 0.2 microns, removing 99.9999 percent of bacteria and 99.9 percent protozoa. (The LifeStraw does not remove viruses; however, other versions of the device, including the LifeStraw Family and the LifeStraw Mission also remove 99.999 percent of viruses from water.) The LifeStraw can filter 1,000 liters of water before needing to be replaced.

UNICEF reports that in 2015, 663 million people around the world lack improved sources for drinking water. Access to clean drinking water has major health implications; the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that each year 1.5 million people — mostly children — die of diarrhea caused by contaminated water and inadequacies in sanitation and hygiene. WHO suggests that access to clean water could reduce instances of these diarrheal illnesses by 31 percent. According to the LifeStraw website, every time someone buys a LifeStraw, “one school child in a developing country receives safe drinking water for an entire school year.” What this means in practice is that funds from every purchase go toward bringing Life Straw Community filters into schools. Considerably larger than the personal-use LifeStraws, these high-volume filters resemble drink coolers and can purify 70,000 to 100,000 liters of water. LifeStraw claims to have given the filters to 301 schools in western Kenya, giving clean water to over 157,975 children.

As promising as the Life Straw is, Paul Hetherington from the UK organization WaterAid warns the BBC that the device is not a magical fix for water access problems in Africa and other areas that lack reliable water. He points out that for many people, the problem is not simply that water is unsafe, but that it is far away, requiring intense work and travel to retrieve. He explains, “The LifeStraw isn't going to prevent that long journey, even if it does improve the water they drink.”

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