The US$700,000 contest aims for a handheld, standalone, low-cost desalination device suitable for short-term use and rapid deployment in the event of a humanitarian crisis. The competition was launched under the patronage of Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamoud al Busaidi, secretary general in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other dignitaries present at the event included Dr Hilal bin Ali al Hinai, secretary general, TRC and Ciaran O Cuinn, centre director, MEDRC Water Research.
Addressing the gathering, Sayyid Badr said, “The Oman Humanitarian Desalination Challenge is about supporting a global scientific effort to address the humanitarian needs of those without water in the aftermath of a humanitarian crisis. Our goal is to support the scientific and engineering breakthroughs necessary to produce an affordable handheld desalination device that can rapidly be deployed to sustain life. Based on Oman’s deep respect for water as the absolute foundation for human life and civilisation we open the challenge to scientists and engineers of the world.”
Cuinn stressed on the immediate aftermath of a humanitarian crisis, where freshwater supply systems are destroyed, overcome by seawater or contaminated by viruses and bacteria. “This challenge is about putting the best science and engineering on earth to work on providing potable water in those critical hours and days.”
This challenge will run for five years. MEDRC has set up an international panel of experts. It comprises representatives from the funding entities and international experts in the field. Hinai said, “Access to clean fresh water after natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, or floods is critical to health and survival.”
Due to the varying size, scope and complexities of disasters, there is no one size fits all approach to solve the problem of water scarcity following a humanitarian crisis. Current solutions range from placing large-scale water treatment units onsite or transporting in massive quantities of bottled water, through to distributing water purification devices or tablets. None of these are ideal in the aftermath of a natural disaster where storm surge has occurred and a rapid humanitarian response is required.