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Swedish environmental hero invents uplifting solution

Aritco proud partner of Solvatten

Petra is a Swedish hero

“I want to inspire uplifting solutions,“ says Petra Wadström, the founder of Solvatten, who was recently nominated for Aftonbladet’s Swedish Heroes 2020.

Aritco’s journey began in 1995 with a vision of creating opportunities for people via access to more spaces and places. Creating these opportunities is a contributing factor to Aritco’s choosing Solvatten as part of its corporate social responsibility effort.

Solvatten, a Swedish invention, is combined portable water treatment and water heating system that has been designed for off-grid household use in the developing world. Now, Aftonbladet and Svenska Hjältar (Swedish article) have shone a spotlight on Petra Wadström’s long-standing commitment to ensuring that people in some of the world’s poorest countries have vital access to clean water.

An inventing born in a kitchen

We interviewed Petra online due to the pandemic, starting with asking how the idea for Solvatten came about.

“It is a combination of several things,” she recalls. “I have always been interested in finding solutions and focusing more on opportunities than problems. In the late 90’s I lived in Australia and met Aborigines on their land.

“I also visited Indonesia and met women in poverty. They had hardly any access to water and had to work hard to collect and clean the dirty water. As a mother of four children, I was able to relate to the difficulties involved.”

Petra has a background as a biochemical research assistant and describes herself as a practical and stubborn person. She reflected that countries with a lot of sun use this natural resource very little. So she began building water purifier prototypes at her home near Stockholm. She got additional expertise from the Norrvatten water treatment plant, which helped with testing.

A personal message inspired her to keep working on her invention. “A microbiologist from Norrvatten who grew up in Eritrea confirmed that a lack of clean water is a contributing factor to the biggest problems in Africa,” she says. “He told me, ‘Petra, you must not let go of this.’ And it was clear to me that I must not give up.”

Simple and durable with a Swedish sender

The basic idea for sanitizing water is simple: Boiling water kills parasites and microorganisms such as bacteria. But a very easy way to do that is needed for countries with underdeveloped infrastructure.

That’s where Petra’s invention comes in. A black container is filled with ten liters of water, first passing a fabric filter to remove particles, then heated by natural, free solar energy. In a few simple steps, the water is heated and made safe to drink without chemical additives, electricity or advanced filters. The process takes between 2-6 hours. It’s fastest in Kenya, where the process takes an average of two hours.

When Petra’s invention was ready for field testing, UN Habitat agreed to help. The UN agency’s support meant that Petra could travel to Nepal for seven months to test and develop the product. To make a long story short: in 2007 Solvatten was formed. A Swedish brand that would operate only outside Sweden got a Swedish name.

“But Solvatten is easy to pronounce no matter where in the world you are,” the well-traveled inventor points out.

Covid-19 challenge

Petra smiles humbly when her nomination for Swedish Heroes comes up. She says that she is very happy about it and adds that she is not alone at Solvatten. The team includes four more people in Stockholm, two of whom are her sons. In addition, there are important partners around the world.

“It is great fun to be appreciated, and it is important that we can reach out and create awareness for more people,” says Petra. “I am extra-proud that Aftonbladet has paid attention to the environmental value that Solvatten contributes.

“Water is the source of everything, we cannot live without it. And through Solvatten, people do not have to fell as many trees to burn wood for heating water.

Sustainable solutions needed

Petra points out that environmental and energy issues are increasingly urgent, making more sustainable alternatives, such as Solvatten, extremely important. “We need sustainable solutions and long-lasting materials. This should last a childhood at least,” she says.

Large parts of the world have been affected by Covid-19, and poverty is increasing. “We are needed more than ever,“ Petra says.

Fortunately, Solvatten’s long track record and good local contacts make it easier to continue to work even when the staff from the Sweden office cannot travel. “We have built well-established relationships with partners around the world,” Petra says. “Thanks to this, our work on site can continue through our local Solvatten experts.

Supportive partners help the hardest hit

Aritco has been a supporter of Solvatten since 2018. Petra notes the importance of long-term relationships, which make it possible to make long-term plans. Long-term relationships also increase enthusiasm and commitment from employees at the supporting companies, who get updates on the impact their company is making.

“Commitment is needed. The increased contribution from Latour and Aritco has gone to Uganda and to UNHCR refugee camps, where the need is now enormous,” she says. “Hygiene is very important and requires access to clean and hot water.”

She adds that all of Solvatten’s partners are a crucial to be able to help people who are hardest hit, who are often women with children. “People who are too poor to pay for a Solvatten unit can get one through various sponsors, says Petra.

A Swedish hero's message

The crisis for the most vulnerable, often poor women in rural areas, is especially acute. “The poorest people cannot pay for a Solvatten and therefore cannot change their lives,” Petra says. “It means a lot that we can help them through corporate grants. We go beyond helping them with the basics of providing tools to facilitate hygiene. Aid recipients undertake to, for example, attend a course in pre-natal care or build a sink where a Solvatten unit can be installed.

Finally, we ask Petra what message she as a Swedish Hero wants to send to people in the developed world? “I want people to realize that it is possible for one person to make a difference, to find solutions,” she says “Here, school is important, to help children see the possibilities for creative technical solutions.

“Many are intimidated by technology, especially girls. We need uplifting ideas for uplifting solutions,” adding with a smile, “Uplifting. It fits well with Aritco’s lifts.”

Swedish Heroes gala 2020

UPDATE Dec 1, 2020.

Petra won the category Enviromental Hero. She will get the price at Aftonbladet’s Swedish Heroes will be broadcast on December 17 on Swedish TV4. We at Arito naturally send our greatest congratulations on Petra Wadström and Solvatten.

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