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In 1984, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) published international guidelines for drinking-water safety, the only portable water testing equipment available was ungainly and heavy to transport.

At the University of Surrey, Professor of Environmental Health Engineering, Barry Lloyd set up a multidisciplinary team with the goal of producing a water testing kit, which was light, reliable, simple to use and accurate. The result was the DelAgua Water Testing Kit which is now used in 130 countries across the globe by over 1000 different organisations. Typical users include UNICEF, IFRC, WHO, Red Cross, Water Aid and Oxfam.

Prof Lloyd comments: “The WHO estimates that around a quarter of all humankind is carrying intestinal parasites, as a direct result of inadequate sanitation. The DelAgua kit allows people to carry out simple chemical tests and to incubate samples. Training is straightforward and takes around two days.”

The kit tests for five water quality indicators, which in combination can show the likelihood of pathogens being present. It holds incubation temperatures accurately for up to 24 hours and can conduct as many as five testing cycles a week, without battery recharge. Field life expectancy is an amazing 15 years. 

An evolving success

In the early 1990s, Dr Steve Pedley, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey became involved, working on ways to improve the kit to make it even more reliable. The resulting version has many different applications: UNICEF uses it for data monitoring; Oxfam uses it in emergency situations; UNHCR uses it in refugee camps in war zones; and armed forces use it to test water supplies.

In 2006, the business was transferred out of the University of Surrey, and a new business team, under the direction of James Beaumont, was created to take the not-for-profit company forward.

The future

James Beaumont of DelAgua says: “The company is launching a low cost canister which can collect and store water safely, and can be used, without training, by a family of four for up to 12 months. We are also continuing to encourage water authorities to use the DelAgua kit to monitor the quality of water supplies, in non-crisis relief situations.”.