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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 11, 2009

Pure Water for the World
Mohr says, “Providing clean water is the way to break the poverty cycle.”

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Robert Mohr tells the story of an extremely ill child, whose family lives in Honduras, in a hut at the top of a mountain. The young girl was dehydrated from weeks of incessant diarrhea, but no one thought it was possible to get a water filter to her home.

Mohr knows about the girl because, as a member of the Guilderland Rotary, in 2008 he became president of a not-for-profit organization called Pure Water for the World. He has traveled to Honduras and met the girl.

The task had seemed impossible because the filters weigh over 300 pounds, and the only access to the top of the mountain was an old creek path. The Pure Water for the World staff was determined to get the family clean water. Several men carried the heavy filter up the mountain, on the narrow path. They also brought anti-parasitic medication with them, but felt there was not much hope for the child. Three weeks later, the staff was hesitant to visit the family again, for fear of finding the worst. When they arrived at the top of the mountain, they found the girl on the road to recovery.

According to Mohr, 3,000 kids die each day from polluted water. A vast majority of children suffering from malnutrition have contracted parasites from dirty water. It’s a cycle, Mohr said. Kids can be treated with anti-parasitic medication, but, as soon as they drink polluted water, they are back to the same problem.  

Pure Water for the World started as a Rotary project in Brattleboro, Vt., but, after six years, it grew so large that it formed a separate, not-for-profit organization. Mohr said many local Rotarians have contributed thousands of dollars toward the cause, and still others have taken mission trips. Local Rotarians from Colonie, Delmar, Albany, and Middleburg have played a huge part in making the project successful, Mohr said.

Five years ago, Mohr, a retired art publisher, came into contact with the executive director of Pure Water for the World, and subsequently accompanied her to Honduras; Mohr has made 10 or 11 trips over the past four years.

“We are fortunate enough to be in a position to have enough resources to give back. We want to leave the world a better place than when we came into it,” said Mohr, whose wife accompanies him on the trips and is also active with the organization.

The biggest problem with the water in over-crowded, impoverished cities is that the drinking water comes from surface water. The surface water is easily contaminated by livestock, human defecation, and garbage. In order for deep wells to function, a city needs electricity, which many of the poorest cities in developing countries do not have.

In Honduras, the organization installs intermittent bio-sand filters in individual households, and provides health and hygiene education. The Rotary project has put it more than 15,000 filters, servicing over 110,000 individuals. Latrines have also been built, in an attempt to prevent open defecation, which could contaminate surface water.

In Haiti, the organization is working through the school system. Teachers are trained to provide health and hygiene lessons, in hopes that the children will educate their families. The same type of filters used in Honduras are installed in the schools. In Pure Water for the World’s 14 months in Haiti, it has worked with 500 schools, and trained over 1,000 teachers and principals; it just signed a contract to help another 500 schools.

The work that the organization has been doing in Haiti is focused on Citi Soleil, considered the poorest city in the Western Hemisphere. There are half a million people crammed into crowded huts, and very few latrines, said Mohr. Garbage literally clogs the water sources there.

“Providing clean water is the easiest, least expensive way to break the poverty cycle,” said Mohr, who has another trip planned in November.

For information on how people can help, visit www.purewaterfortheworld.org.

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