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It weighs no more than 300 grams, fits easily into a backpack and looks like any other plastic bag. But the simple device is a life-saver for people who have no access to clean drinking water.
The bag, called Fieldtrate Lite, filters dirty water, such as river water, through a membrane and turns it into potable water in the same time it would take to run it from the tap.
It is the brainchild of Singapore start-up WateROAM, which designs portable water filtration systems for use in disaster relief operations or among rural communities without access to clean water.
The social enterprise, set up last August, is run by four young people – Mr David Pong, 26, Mr Lim Chong Tee, 24, Mr Vincent Loka, 22, and Mr Pooi Ching Kwek, 27. They were schoolmates at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Mr Pong, WateROAM’s chief executive, said: “Our vision is to build a world where no man shall face prolonged thirst.”
The Singaporean, who has a degree in business administration, added: “In the areas we went to, such as Phnom Penh and Bintan, we saw kids stunted in growth from not having proper nutrients and clean drinking water.
“They don’t want to go to school because they feel sick all the time, they can’t help out on the farm, they are sidelined in job interviews because of their physical stature.
“Water affects everything in life.”
The team hopes that Fieldtrate Lite will be the answer to the problem.
The filtration system, which costs $35, is easy to operate and does not require electricity. Each bag, made of medical-grade plastic, is fitted with a tube that dispenses filtered water.
It takes just an hour to filter a full bag of six to 10 litres of water, which can serve a household of five to seven people. It can last three to five years because it uses ceramic membranes, which are more durable than the widely-used polymeric membranes which tear more easily.
The WateRoam team says they are the first to use ceramic membrane technology, which is more commonly used for industrial waste management, in portable water filters.
WateRoam also has a more elaborate filtration system, called Fieldtrate Plus, which was invented before Fieldtrate Lite.
Fieldtrate Plus, which is the size and weight of a large suitcase at 30kg, is sold for $1,500. It can produce up to 500 litres of clean water per hour, enough to cater to the needs of a few hundred people.
To date, WateROAM’s filtration systems have provided drinkable water for nearly 1,000 people in three countries, including an orphanage in Bintan, Indonesia, a village in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and victims of last December’s floods in Kelantan, Malaysia.
Mr Lim, who is the chief marketing officer of the start-up, said he got interested in water sanitation after a trip to Phnom Penh during his junior college days.
There, he saw a young boy drinking dirty water from a flooded well. “The water was very brown, even greenish, but he drank it anyway. When I first saw that, it really affected me.”
He then decided to study environmental engineering at university, so that he could help tackle water problems. He is now three years into his degree course.
Mr Loka, who is WateRoam’s financial controller, said clean water can be scarce in his hometown of Medan in Indonesia because of frequent flooding.
“I took this path because I hope to contribute to my country some day,” said the final-year environmental engineering student.
WateROAM now sells the filters to non-governmental organisations such as World Vision, Canact and, which bring them to overseas communities.
The team members also fly in – sometimes paying for flights out of their own pockets – to help install the systems and educate users on water hygiene.
Mr Pong, who went to Kelantan in March, said: “Three months after the flooding, many people were still relying on relief aid for bottled water. We want to help deploy systems which are more sustainable.”
WateROAM’s next step is developing Fieldtrate X, a filter which can handle water containing arsenic, which is a major issue for ground water in areas such as Phnom Penh and Bangladesh.
A prototype is being tested by the Bangladeshi government, and the team expects it to be ready for use in the field in six months’ time.
Mr Pong graduated from NUS last year; the rest of the team are juggling their WateROAM responsibilities with their studies. But Mr Lim said the pressure was “not daunting” and added: “This is my dream job.”
He returned to Phnom Penh last June, this time with the Fieldtrate Plus in tow. “When I saw the village kids running around the system, finally able to play with clean water, I felt whatever I’m doing is worth it.”