Water Missions seeks to bring world clean water

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — After a dozen years, Molly and George Greene are still pursuing their dream of bringing clean water to 100 million people around the world.

Since starting the nonprofit Water Missions International back in 2001, they estimate they have provided clean water to 3 million people in 50 nations, in most places through their Living Water Treatment Systems.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” Molly Greene said during an interview earlier this month in Water Missions’ new headquarters in a 43,000-square-foot renovated warehouse at the old Charleston Naval Base.

“The thing about this whole issue is it’s enormous,” her husband added. “In the hour we spend talking, over 1,000 people are going to die of water-borne illnesses.”

The couple, who for years operated an environmental lab, started the nonprofit in 2001, collecting a handful of donations and setting a goal of providing clean water to 100 million people within a decade.

The idea evolved after Hurricane Mitch smashed into Central America back in 1998.

The Greenes had connections in Honduras and found there was a need for an inexpensive water treatment system. Greene designed one, which became the prototype for the Living Water Treatment System.

“I don’t dwell on disappointment that we haven’t reached 100 million,” George Greene said. “I think what we have accomplished here is phenomenal.”

The numbers bear that out.

Over the years, the Water Missions has worked with corporate and nonprofit partners to deploy the filtering systems after disasters such as Mitch and, as importantly, creating small community systems in areas that have never known clean water.

Water Missions now has a staff of 200 worldwide and this fiscal year has a budget of $13 million. Earlier this year, Water Missions moved into its new headquarters, which has plenty of space for offices and for assembling the water treatment systems. The building runs entirely on solar power.

The original units were designed with a 275-gallon tank, a small pump and filters so water might be pumped from river or lake. They were designed in a steel cage and could be transported to remote areas on the back of a pickup truck.

The new generation units – George Greene says they have been redesigned about six times – are about half the size, are sturdier and can run on solar power as well as other power sources. The originals were powered by a small gas or diesel pump or by hand.

The units still produce enough drinkable water for about 3,000 people a day but now are often attached to distribution systems and larger storage tanks of upward to 10,000 gallons. The systems provide an ongoing source of clean water.

Water Missions is now also taking on another challenge connected to water-borne illnesses – poor sanitation. Engineers at Water Missions have developed what they call the Healthy Latrine.

Aluminum forms are set up and concrete is poured between them creating an outhouse when the forms are removed. A modern porcelain toilet is then installed inside, although without a water tank because there is no plumbing. Those using the latrine bring a gallon of water in a bucket to first wash their hands and then pour down the toilet to flush it. The waste is emptied into a pit below.

More than 2,000 of the latrines have now been installed in Honduras and Haiti.

The Greenes are reluctant to take credit for what Water Missions has been able to accomplish over the years.

“We’re a Christian ministry and that gives us an opportunity to recognize what happens is really happening because the Lord is making it happen,” George Greene said.

Molly Greene concedes the challenge of bringing clean water to the people who need it was greater than they ever imagined.

“We have remained and we have sought God’s guidance,” she said. “He wants us to use the talents he has blessed us with. He doesn’t want us sitting around doing nothing so we are pushing ahead.”

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On the Internet:

Water Missions International: http://www.watermissions.org/

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