Nicolas Wertheimer (Proyecto Agua Segura)
Nicolas Wertheimer (Proyecto Agua Segura)

At the age of 17, when I was very young, I decided that I wanted to become a doctor. As a med student I travelled to Sweden to collaborate with the Karolinska Institutet. Then I went to the United States and worked at the University of Pennsylvania’s Hospital. When I came back to Argentina, I received my degree at the Austral University’s Hospital. I acquired some experience in the Federico Falcón hospital, located in Del Viso, a district from the Buenos Aires province that belongs to the ‘conurbano.’ Later, I worked at the Vicente López Hospital. In that moment, something made a big impact on me: these hospitals were very different from everything I had seen so far in my career. The supplies where scarce, there were greater numbers of patients  with many of them having urgent care needs. I saw everyday how parents queued the whole day so that their children could receive medical attention. Children came to us with stomach pains, very low weight, and a short height. In the majority of such cases, we were dealing with parasitic infections transmitted through the low-quality water they consumed, adding the factor of poor and unhealthy hygiene habits. The work was really hard: we had guards without sleeping and an ascending number of patients gathering at the halls of the hospital. I was literally running from a patient’s case to another one. But the point is, was it really useful to administrate an antiparasitic drug if they continued drinking that untreated and unsafe water?

I needed data. So I began an investigation. It became clear to me that the world is currently having a water crisis. It is necessary to mention this: many of us live our lives opening our tap to drink some water or to take a shower. We aren’t conscious and aware of how hard this can be for other people.

According to the World Health Organization, every year 1500 million people get infected by waterborne diseases. A child dies every 90 seconds because of such illnesses. In Argentina, almost 16% of the population doesn’t have access to safe and treated water, which implies that 6.7 million people are drinking water directly from rivers, streams and waterholes. Of course, this water hasn’t passed through any treatment to assure its drinkability. I also found alarming data from the National Plan of Drinkable Water and Sanitation, which showed that 41,6% of the people are lacking access to a sewer. The 2010 Indec Census showed that the northern region of the country is the most affected by these water-related issues. Chaco for example has 51% of its family-houses without access to safe water. Formosa has 41% and Santiago del Estero a 25%. In Buenos Aires, the province where I live, a 25% of its population suffers from these type of water-problems. Actually, that was what I was seeing at the hospitals where I previously worked. In this same investigation I found an image on Google: there were kids that seemed to live in some far country in Africa. They were drinking water from a river with a device that looked like a straw.

I continued with my investigation and I found out that this straw-looking device was actually a microbiological filter analyzed by the WHO. It could convert any type of water in safe and drinkable water for human consumption and use. It was qualified as “high technology” that could bring the highest protection needed for people suffering from water-related problems. That image I saw on Google marked a new path for me: I needed to bring those filters to Argentina.

I started doing everything I could to contact the people who produced these filters, and I finally achieved bringing them to Argentina. Without realizing it, I was creating an organization that helped people: Proyecto Agua Segura. I will never forget the first time I was able to reach people who needed help. It was in the public school Escuela Nº810 in Machagai, Chaco. I realized that all the information and data I had previously gathered implied something concrete: there were human beings that walked long kilometers so they could drink some brown and green water. As I worked with my organization it became clear that just bringing the technology wasn’t enough. It was necessary that the people could understand that the river’s water had micro-organisms. It was necessary to teach them how important it is to have good hygiene habits such as washing their hands and bodies, or drinking 8 glasses of water a day.

Children are always the first to understand this. Later, kids replicate this knowledge at home. That is why the rural public schools are the key of our project. Today, we have accomplished to give safe water to 160 schools and more than 500 families. There is a long way ahead and Proyecto Agua Segura has a mission: reaching all the families and schools that need us, in Argentina and Latin America too. Many companies and civil organizations are collaborating with us nowadays, and I feel this helps us to get a bit closer from our goal.