As filtration goes, LifeStraw is an extremely effective product (and when it's being donated to those in need, a very cost-effective one as well). But UNICEF points out some other personal filtration or water sanitation technologies that also could work in developing nations.
One is good old chlorine. In the right dose, it can kill 99.99 percent of enteric, or intestinal, pathogens (but not Cryptosporidium and Mycobacterium species) [source: UNICEF]. Another cool technology is ceramic water filters, which use an idea similar to LifeStraw. Ceramic naturally has the same small pores -- 0.2 microns -- that can filter out bacteria and protozoa [source: Brown]. They also are sometimes treated with silver to stop microbial growth (which also might make it more effective to kill microbes in general). A 2007 U.N. study of ceramic water filters declared them one of the "best available options for household water filters" [source: Brown]. Then there are solar filters, which -- much like bringing water to a boil through fuel -- heats the water enough to kill dangerous pathogens. The SODIS (solar water disinfection) method is simple as can be: Put your water in PET plastic or glass bottles, and let the sun heat them for six hours (or up to two days, depending on the weather). The process will eliminate viruses, bacteria and parasites [source: SODIS].
After discussing the merits of various point-of-consumption filters -- that is, filters that are used right before drinking -- you might be wondering if water sanitation should be done on a larger scale. Point-of-source interventions (where the water is decontaminated at the source) are also a possibility. But by and large, studies have shown that point-of-consumption is more effective, both from a public health and a cost standpoint [source: UNICEF].
As you can see, bringing clean water to the poorest parts of the globe can be a tricky business -- perhaps with the emphasis on "business." But read on for lots more information about LifeStraw and other options to make water safe for all.
Author's Note: How LifeStraw Works
I don't envy those who are in the business of trying to make the world a better place, while keeping an eye on their bottom line. No matter how much good they do, they're going to get dinged for making money off the enterprise. And indeed, there seems little doubt that Vestergaard Frandsen has a stellar product in LifeStraw. But when the CEO is putting $30 million of his own money into the project, it does give one pause. Thirty million dollars will provide for a lot of LifeStraws, sure. But that money is not a donation to bring clean water to folks; it's an investment in a company that hopes to make a profit by bringing clean water to folks.
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- Wilhelm, Elisabeth, new media specialist, Vestergaard-Frandsen. Personal correspondence. January 2013.