Japanese purifier cleaning water in Somali camps

Kyodo

Using a purifying agent produced by a small Japanese company, an international agency is making water potable for internally displaced people in Mogadishu, the capital of war-ravaged Somalia — often described as a “failed state.”

Made by Osaka-based Nippon Poly-Glu Co., the agent has helped lower the incidence of illnesses and diarrhea among children of Somalis who fled their hometowns to escape famine and civil war, local people say.

At a camp teeming with ramshackle tents in Mogadishu, where women and children fill plastic bottles at a water purifying tank, an aid worker shows a small bag. The white powder it contains, the worker says, is used with chlorine to clean the water.

A key ingredient of the powder is polyglutamic acid, the sticky substance of “natto” fermented soybeans. According to Nippon Poly-Glu, it helps quicken the coagulation of impurities in water.

It is not the first time that Nippon Poly-Glu, with a small workforce of about 30, has engaged in humanitarian aid outside Japan. The company has been helping other developing countries where clean water is scarce.

Learning about the company’s activities, Chiaki Ito, an official of the International Organization for Migration who is in charge of hygiene in Somalia, asked the company to let it use the agent.

With the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the IOM began providing water cleansed with the agent to some 5,000 internally displaced people in Mogadishu in January.

The aid will continue until next year as the Japanese government has since offered $2 million in official development assistance to fund the project.

Poor sanitation has led to outbreaks of cholera at camps in Mogadishu, which house, according to United Nations estimates, nearly 200,000 internally displaced people. Many people fled the southern part of the country last year due to famine and headed for the capital seeking food and water.

Due to the use of the Japanese-made purifying agent, the incidence of diarrhea and other diseases among those at the camp who used to drink well water has decreased, says Hibaq Ahmed Hashi, leader of the refugee camp where the IOM provides drinking water.

Guards are posted around the clock to protect the water purification tank at the camp due to poor security in the capital even after Islamic extremists left the city.

“We intend to figure out a way to continue the supply of clean water,” said IOM’s Ito.

Kanetoshi Oda, chairman of Nippon Poly-Glu, said he wants to continue helping internally displaced people in Somalia, who live in desperate conditions.