'Water from air' quenches threatened girls' thirst in arid Kenya

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by Benson Rioba

Solar-powered panels that condense water vapour in the air could be a sustainable source of drinking water in dry areas

LOOSUK, Kenya, Nov 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In this arid part of northern Kenya, water can be hard to find, particularly in the dry season.

But a centre run by the Samburu Girls Foundation - which rescues girls facing early marriage and female genital mutilation - has a new high-tech source of it.

Since June, the centre, which has rescued more than 1,200 girls, has used panels that catch water vapour in the air and condense it to supply their drinking water.

"We used to have difficulties in accessing water and during a drought we could either go to the river to fetch water or ask our neighbors to give us water," said Jecinta Lerle, a pupil and vice president of students at the centre's school.

But now, officials at the school say, the girls no longer have to travel for water - including into communities they have left, which could put them at risk.

"The girls can now have more time to study since there is enough fresh water to go round and there is no need to walk long distances to search for water," said Lotan Salapei, the foundation's head of partnerships.

Girls formerly trekked up to five kilometres a day in search of clean water during particularly dry periods, sometimes bringing them into contact with members of their former community, Salapei said.

The centre, given 40 of the water vapour-condensing panels by the company that builds them, now creates about 400 litres of clean water each day, enough to provide all the drinking water the centre needs.

The "hydropanels", produced by U.S.-based technology company Zero Mass Water, pull water vapour from the air and condense it into a reservoir.

Cody Friesen, Zero Mass Water's founder and chief executive officer, said the company's project with the Samburu Girls Foundation was an example of its efforts to make sure the technology "is accessible to people across the socioeconomic spectrum".

The panels provided to the Samburu Girls Foundation cost about $1,500 each, foundation officials said.

Zero Mass Water has so far sold or donated the panels in 16 countries, including South Africa.