In the Darfur region of Sudan, two million people struggle in the desert to find wood to cook with. Women have been raped and killed trying to feed their families. In Bangladesh, dangerous levels of arsenic in drinking water has lead to birth defects. And in rural Guatemala, hot water is an unattainable luxury. But thanks to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory physicist and engineer, many of these problems now have simple solutions.
Ashok Gadgil made a name for himself in science discovering a way to clean water with ultra violet light, but it is his humanitarian projects that have made a huge difference in some of the poorest parts of the world. Gadgil has led a team of researchers, including graduate students from UC Berkeley on a journey to find simple engineering solutions to global problems.
The stoves invented by the team use just a fraction of wood as a traditional cooking fire and limit the dangerous treks to look for that wood. The stoves are shipped flat, assembled on site, and most importantly, inexpensive -- one stove costs just $20.
"Each stove saves them about $300 a year in fuel wood costs. So what used to be 33 percent of their daily budget is now only about 15 percent," says Gadgil.
In Guatemala the team is testing an inexpensive way to deliver hot water using solar energy.
"The goal is to try to provide solar water heating at a cost that local people can afford," says Gadgil.
Gadgil just returned from the Indian border along Bangladesh. There 70 million people drink water with arsenic levels many times higher than what's considered safe.
"The challenge is to find something that's technically effective to bring the arsenic levels all the way down to 10 parts per billion, which is a really, really, very, low level," says Gadgil.
Next year they will begin a pilot project that uses simple technology to clear the water: two pieces of steal with an electrical charge.
"That causes one of the plates to corrode because you're driving the current through it, and produces a particular kind of rust, of nano-particle size, that grabs the arsenic," says Gadgil.
It costs just a fraction of a penny per person per day.
Gadgil says these simple engineering solutions that we take for granted, can have huge impacts. His hope is that others will take the time to look for them as well.
"The satisfaction comes from the recognition that we are all human and in some sense I could be in their skin and they could be in my skin, so we -- all of us -- owe it to all the world to do the best we can," says Gadgil.
Written and produced by Ken Miguel