By SHARON HEILBRUNN I Union-Tribune Community News - March 30, 2005
DEL MAR - Local resident Salah Hassanein knows no boundaries when it comes to generosity.
Hassanein, 83, organized the Tsunami Disaster Lifeline Missions project to help provide fresh water to tsunami-devastated areas. So far, more than 65,000 people are receiving clean water thanks to Hassanein's efforts.
After learning about the tsunami tragedy, Hassanein contacted his friend John Lane, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey Office of Ground Water, Branch of Geophysics, and asked if he would be willing to help install clean water systems in Sri Lanka and other affected areas.
Lane agreed and put Hassanein in touch with Water Missions International, a nonprofit organization based in South Carolina that builds water purification systems for developing countries and areas hit by disaster. The organization agreed to supply the water systems and, in February, Lane headed a four-member team that traveled to Sri Lanka to install the units.
"We spent 15 days there," Lane said. "We worked with other aid organizations, and in the end we installed 13 units. Each unit produces water for 5,000 people a day. Hassanein's goal is to raise enough money to install 60 units. "Right now, we have enough money for 36 units," he said. "The total approximate cost of each unit is $15,000 when you include installation, maintenance and instruction."
The permanent treatment systems use a combination of filtration and chlorination. After the tsunami struck, drinking water sources were contaminated by salt water and sewage. The water became a breeding ground for diarrhea and infectious diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and malaria.When Lane arrived in Sri Lanka, villagers were pulling brown water out of a lagoon."The water coming out of the system we installed is crystal clear," he said. "It was neat to see that."
Hassanein, a philanthropist and semi-retired businessman, is chairman of Variety Children's Lifeline, a nonprofit organization based in Solana Beach. Its primary purpose is to provide cardiac surgeries for underprivileged children in developing countries. Lane said tsunami victims were amazed by his team's arrival. "More than once, I got comments that they just couldn't believe that people would drop everything they were doing and come halfway around the world to help them," he said. Three more missions are planned during the next couple of months to install purification systems in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand.