Feature: Simple coffee bean could be vital solution to improving health in Laos' countryside

December 16, 2014 11:55 pm 

By Steven Cleary, Zhang Jianhua

VIENTIANE, Dec. 16 (PNA/Xinhua) — In a branch of one of the country's most well-known cafe chains, with modern vehicles whizzing by just yards from the door, as beans are ground and enticing blend percolate away, it would be easy to forget that nearby life continue as usual in the underprivileged rural villages in Laos' ruggedly remote and mountainous interior.

Customers in this particular shop sip their caffeinated brews in air-conditioned comfort, in much the same way as they would in any such establishment across the globe.

Most, however, remain blissfully unaware that the contents of their cups are, in this particular instance, helping to reduce the scourge of water-borne disease in the very same villages.

Untreated water is a major cause of attacks of diarrhea, gastrointestinal complaints and other potentially life-threatening illnesses, which can compound problems surrounding a lack of nourishment, especially among children.

This feeds into stunted growth that remains drastically high among under-five's in Laos, at 44 percent, a key focus of the first United Nations Millennium Development Goal for the nation, according to the latest statistics by United Nations Development Program.

The majority of these cases are concentrated in the nation's rural parts renowned for their rich tapestry, but less so for possessing the vital, affordable and reliable filtration technology that is the only tool to combat the scourge.

The connection to coffee lies in the ground and the remnants of the coffee left over once the tastiness has been extracted from the beans. The leftovers are mixed with clay and water, and molded into shape and fired in a kiln.

After being cooled, they are mixed with some additional material, which are available from the local markets. The composite, largely organic, will soon be ready to become part of an affordable and effective filter that can create some 40 liters of fresh water per day, enough to supply a few household's daily requirements.

Australian engineer Sunny Forsyth, founder of non-governmental organization (NGO) Abundant Water and his filter design has grown out of efforts to spread affordable, clean drinking water technology in disparate parts of the globe.

The technique itself is based on ancient local traditions of ground-fired ceramics with the addition of basic, yet effective international expertise.

It addresses the drinking-water challenge by teaching the technical know-how of water purification and entrepreneurial skills to the community members themselves, so they can put their new-found skills to good use, with the raw materials and additional hardware for the filters that are readily available to them in their own villages.

It empowers local practitioners who are able to act as catalysts for getting the technology used in those communities where it is most needed.

"Our approach transfers knowledge and expertise, and develops local capability and ownership, increasing the likelihood of ongoing use of the technology," Forsyth told Xinhua.

"Abundant Water is training Laos' villager potters in our water filter technology and micro-financed business approaches," he added.

He went on to explain that after six years working with rural communities across the nation, the program was ready to scale up to offer support to many more communities in need.

Also mindful that the problem of clean drinking water doesn't begin or end in Laos, Abundant Water is also reaching out to likeminded individuals and organizations around the world.

"We are developing a model for the propagation of low-cost programs enabling anyone in need, anywhere in the world, to access clay pottery water filter technology, so they too can benefit from safe drinking water," said Forsyth.

Speaking to Xinhua recently, Australian Ambassador to Laos John Williams said the Abundant Water was a great example of Australian innovation.

"This has the potential for big impact, not just in Laos but in remote villages elsewhere."

Meanwhile at the cafe, Laos' Country Manager for the Joma chain of coffee shops, Jeff Sophr, describes the collaboration in positive terms.

He said Abundant Water was effectively taking what would be disposed of and repurposing it to great use and benefit.

"Joma and Abundant Water are a good fit. We have a lot of used coffee grounds that would otherwise go to waste," Sophr said.

"Our partnership with Abundant Water fits both of our goals perfectly – to provide support and opportunities for the basic needs of the disadvantaged." (PNA/Xinhua)

LAM/EBP

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