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I'm so excited about this new device that creates water from air by capturing rainwater and condensation for food production to address hunger globally. It will also address climate change impacts by enabling easy reforestation and reducing erosion.  An additional benefit for our water crisis is freeing up existing water supplies used inefficiently for food production for eventual reallocation to other beneficial uses. AND, I am hopeful that it will be used to stop some countries from colonizing African countries by grabbing fertile lands for production of food to be shipped back home: Instead of plundering and raping the land and natural resources overseas, countries need to address why they have a food and/or water crisis in the first place. There's even a cherry on top of all this glee. The inventor wants to make sure that the device remains affordable for the poor communities suffering from hunger and water shortages.

In 2008, I wrote a diary about Creating Drinking Water From Air which discussed how companies and individuals were developing technologies to capture water vapors in our air to create drinking water. These water makers have been used in a variety of situations where people did not have access to potable water supplies, including providing water to our troops in Iraq, survivors of natural disasters, and communities whose natural supplies were nonexistent or polluted.

Given our global water crisis that will only worsen with climate change, we need to create additional water supplies as well as address issues of polluted water, mismanagement of existing water supplies, and waste/conservation. According to the World Health Organization, 70% of water consumed from freshwater systems is used for irrigation of agricultural crops.

The World Economic Forum issued a report warning that in less than 20 years the world may face a water bankruptcy of fresh water shortages so huge and pervasive that "global food production could crater" as the world could "lose the equivalent of the entire grain production of the US and India combined."

Another related issue that I have written about before has worsened. Instead of creating additional water supplies, some foreign countries have decided the answer is colonial land grabs of buying up fertile lands in Africa to address their own food and water shortages.

Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13 million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 3m hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world's most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.

... But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.

A Dutch inventor, Pieter Hoff, believes that it is not efficient to use groundwater to grow crops and trees because traditional irrigation loses most of the water to evaporation.   Hoff created the Groasis Waterboxx to produce food from trees, bushes, grapevines and cornstalks in the "driest places on earth."

This is how the Waterboxx works:

The Waterboxx is a round device made from polypropylene and about the size of car tire -- 20 inches in diameter and 10 inches high. An opening at the center of the box provides a space for a plant or tree to germinate and grow.

The box is designed to capture both rainwater and condensation, which collects in the chamber underneath the cover, and prevents the water from evaporating. Mr. Hoff describes it as a 'water battery.'

A wick inside taps into the ground beneath the box and drips a small amount of water to the plant’s root system each day. Once the plant or tree has taken root on its own, reaching a water source sometimes several meters below, the box can be removed and used again to start another plant or tree.

The design of the Waterboxx captures the water without using energy.   The trees or bushes can be planted on rocks, mountains, ashes of burned woods, eroded areas, or deserts to produce "food, fruit, nuts, wood, extracts, medicines, oils and many other economically interesting products." The Waterboxx can be used for seeds, young plants or trees that are provided shelter from sun, weeds, rodents and topsoil evaporation for 1 year, and then be removed when the tree or plant is strong enough to be on its own.

Hoff conducted a 3-year test of his Waterboxx in the Sahara desert in Morocco that has only a few inches of rainfall each year. The results were impressive:

Almost 90 percent of the trees planted using the Groasis Waterboxx survived after it was removed.

A test group of trees planted without the box, but watered once a week, produced the opposite result: only 10 percent survived.

The Waterboxx has been used to produce healthy trees and crops in Sahara Desert, Kenya and Egypt and more projects have been started in Chile, Spain, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

The potential applications are incredible. Huff has met with Governor Schwarzenegger and plans to conduct more trials of this Waterboxx in eight countries, including California wine country and Joshua Tree National Park.  This spring the Robert Mondavi Winery will test Waterboxes for the planting of 3 acres of new vineyards.  In addition to helping with the current water crisis, there are issues of reforestation, hunger, and erosion. Huff has a biodegradable model that can be used for forests.

Poor communities globally have been denied access to potable water due to diminishing supplies and also the sometimes prohibitive cost of water.  Some global water companies believe strongly in the market approach and privatization that increases the cost of water beyond the financial means of communities lacking water. Another great thing about Hoff is he will "provide a nonexclusive, free license to anyone who wants to manufacture and distribute the Groasis Waterbox, while he plans to ask only for a small royalty per box." The whole purpose of Hoff's business model is to make the Waterboxx "available to everybody, everywhere" to enable the "world's poor to buy the box."  Thus, Hoff is making arrangements with a Dutch bank to create a "micro-finance scheme to enable farmers in developing countries to buy the Waterboxx." The Waterboxx retails for around $15.

EcoJustice series discuss environmental justice, or the disproportionate impacts on human health and environmental effects on minority communities. All people have a human right to clean, healthy and sustainable communities.

Almost 4 decades ago, the EPA was created partially in response to the public health problems caused in our country by environmental conditions, which included unhealthy air, polluted rivers, unsafe drinking water and waste disposal. Oftentimes, the answer has been to locate factories and other pollution-emitting facilities in poor, culturally diverse, or minority communities.

Please join EcoJustice hosts on Monday evenings at 7PM PDT. Please email us if you are interested in hosting.

Originally posted to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 06:53 PM PDT.

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