Waves for Water and Panerai

Military Veterans Have Used This Portable Water Filter to Bring Clean Water to Millions of People


October 24, 2019 Sports and Outdoors By Photo by Henry Phillips, Brenden Clarke

Large watch companies have the financial capacity to support all sorts of projects and initiatives, most of which are inevitably horological. However, there are certain endeavors and causes that are only tangentially related to timekeeping but whose values align with those of a particular brand, and this is how Gear Patrol recently found itself down in Colombia on a mission sponsored by Panerai.

The famed watchmaker with Italian military origins supports an NGO called Waves for Water, which was founded by ex-pro surfer Jon Rose and brings in clean water solutions to areas around the world affected by disaster, conflict, draught and more. Within Waves for Water is the Clean Water Corps, staffed by military veterans (the majority of whom are American) who have transitioned out of soldiering and into volunteer work. Panerai’s support of Waves for Water (herein “W4W”) allowed them to begin an initiative in a remote village in Colombia to bring in filters and train the local villagers how to use them.

There was no special, limited edition watch involved with the W4W partnership, the proceeds of which are partially donated to the NGO — Panerai simply became aware of W4W’s mission and reached out to Jon Rose, and this how the relationship began. While it’s fair to examine outside motivations from large companies that support charitable causes — one can argue that doing “good” is always good PR — the fact remains that without their corporate sponsors, organizations such as W4W would be unable to complete their mission, and their mission is a noble one: To date, W4W has implemented over 155 clean water programs in 48 countries, handed out 150,000 filtrations systems, dug bore-hole wells and rainwater harvesting systems, and impacted an estimated 3.75 million people. Panerai clearly recognized this nobility of mission and chose to support a cause that aligned with their values as a brand.

W4W’s mission relies not on Panerai watches, but on Panerai itself and companies like it for funding. Panerai, for its part, is a company whose wares were designed to function in and around water, and thus the idea of an NGO whose purpose is to bring the gift of water and of life to those who need it is pretty damn “on-brand” for them. (That the NGO was founded by an ex-pro surfer, and that the Clean Water Corps is staffed by military veterans, certainly doesn’t hurt.)

All this being said, the real gear-related star of the show was a simple water filter. Without this filter, much less could be accomplished in the way of implementing clean water solutions in remote areas, and it’s a testament to the effectiveness of this one particular model that W4W has been so successful in its mission.

The Sawyer Filter

Filters aren’t the only way that W4W brings clean water solutions into areas that need it — they will also dig wells and implement rainwater harvesting. But a simple, portable filter is the easiest, most expedient to treat water in remote areas, and one can rid water of cholera, salmonella, giardia, e. coli, and typhoid. After testing numerous filtration systems, W4W settled on a model manufactured by American company Sawyer that’s portable, easy to clean, lightweight, and powerful enough to remove 99.99% of bacteria and protozoa from water, as well as 100% of microplastics.

The filter contains myriad tiny “u”-shaped hollow fibers that trap bacteria and contaminants while allowing filtered water to quickly pass through. Because the filter is certified down to 0.1 microns, harmful bacteria and protozoa become trapped in the spaghetti-like fibers and only clean water is passed. Incredibly, the filters have a 1,000,000-gallon cleaning capacity and sufficient flow rate for 100 people in a day over a 5-year period. Run in a family system for a group of 5 people, this means a lifetime of 20 years per unit if properly maintained.

Sawyer’s all-in-one emergency bucket and faucet adaptor kit (which includes a filter) retails for $50 and arrives in a small plastic pouch. Once in-country, Clean Water Corps personnel will buy locally available buckets and transport them to the area where clean water is needed. (For travelers, Sawyer offers a Mini Water Filtration System for $20 that doesn’t include bucket or faucet adaptors).

The filter implementation is then simple — a demonstration is given to the locals on how to drill a small hole near the bottom of each bucket (this can be done by hand with an included bit), and how to attach the filter to the end of a small piece of tubing. A few easy installations of the pieces included in the kit and voila — instant clean water.

The beauty of the Sawyer filter is in its simplicity and its effectiveness — Clean Water Corps and W4W personnel have returned to afflicted areas to find water filter systems working years after their initial implementation. The trick lies simply in effectively teaching someone how to use and maintain the system properly — once this is done, the gift of life through clean water is forever given.

Of course, the filter system isn’t perfect — it can’t separate chemical, heavy metal, mineral, and viral contaminants from water, which require different types of filtration solutions such as rain catchment or wells. But for the vast majority of cases, this small piece of kit, which can easily fit in a backpack, or even a pocket, is enough to change someone’s life forever. We mostly take clean water for granted in places like the United States, where almost everyone has easy access to it by simply turning on the tap in the kitchen.

However, for roughly 11% of the world’s population (or 790 million people), access to clean water isn’t a given. In conflict zones, places that are prone to natural disaster, or in remote villages or towns, clean water doesn’t flow from a tap. There are several ways to give people access to clean water, and portable filtration is only one of them, but it’s amongst the most elegant, easy-to-implement solutions to one of humanity’s greatest challenges.

Having traveled throughout many countries in the world in myriad remote areas, we’ve used water filtration solutions firsthand, long before encountering Waves for Water or the Clean Water Corps. Some are clunky and only partially effective, while others are more elegant. Having seen the Sawyer product in use by the Clean Water Corps in Colombia, however, we can’t imagine there being better validation for its effectiveness.

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