In response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, North Charleston-based nonprofit organization Water Missions International (WMI) is sending water treatment systems to Liberia that will provide clean drinking water for up to 100,000 people.
WMI sent its first shipment of equipment Friday on a FedEx plane bound for the capital city of Monrovia. Wednesday morning at WMI's headquarters on the Navy Yard, employees and volunteers were busy loading equipment onto a shipping container to begin its sea voyage to Monrovia. In all, WMI is sending five of its Living Water Treatment Systems, 10 chlorination devices, solar panels, and some water quality test kits. Pat Haughney, the organization's disaster response manager, will fly to Monrovia soon to help install the equipment in Monrovia's Ebola Treatment Units.
In recent years, WMI has sent water treatment systems and engineers to Haiti, Peru, and the Philippines in the wake of natural disasters that created a shortage of clean water. The Christian nonprofit group is often on the ground in a country within days after disaster strikes, and they provide support for local water system operators years after arriving.
"Whenever we put equipment in, we like it to stay there and help the people in the long term," Haughney says. "So our goal would be to transition to that. Whether we'll have a presence there with our own staff or not, it's to be determined."
WMI took an interest in Liberia after Dr. Jeff Deal, the organization's director of health studies, recently spent two weeks training Liberian hospital workers to use a disinfecting robot he invented called the TRU-D Smart UVC, which uses UV light to prevent hospital-acquired infections. While in Liberia, he noticed that clean water was in short supply in Liberian medical facilities.
"He got back to us and said the need for water is very great. Based on that, we felt we needed to make a response," Haughney says. Initially, Haughney says WMI will focus its efforts on Monrovia, a sprawling city with a population of just under 1 million.
Deal returned to the United States Sept. 2 after setting up the TRU-D systems, but he kept a blog while he was in Liberia that included the following account of an encounter with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a 2011 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize:
Quite by chance, I found myself lining up with the staff and applauding as two survivors walked out of the ETU [Ebola Treatment Unit] alive and well. President Sirleaf herself met them and spoke to her country via a large press gathering. She then walked over to me and said, "So, Dr. Deal. This is your machine?" The staff had brought out the TRU-D and we stood around it.
She then turned to the crowd and told them how this machine was sent to help them. "This man is a friend of Liberia," she said. I was moved, to say the least. We had spoken at length the evening before and on this morning I said only seven words to her, which she then turned and repeated in a near shout. I told her, "Madam President, you will win this war."
If you would like to donate money to support Water Missions International's work in Liberia, visit watermissions.org.