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Grove City-linked safe-water charity tested by earthquake

| Monday, Jan. 18, 2010

Haiti, an island nation with water everywhere, does not have enough of a safe supply to drink.

As a result, Deep Springs International — a charity with Grove City College ties that promotes safe water treatment — is being tested to the brink in the wake of Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

"The safe water situation was not good before and is bound to get much worse very soon," said Michael Ritter, president of Deep Springs, in an electronic message from Haiti.

Ritter, a Grove City graduate who grew up in Moon, founded Deep Springs in 2006 with Grove City alumna Ruth Entwistle and Timothy Mech, a professor of entrepreneurship at the college. The charity provides a water treatment program that's available to the poorest of the poor in Haiti, where wages average $2 a day.

The nonprofit sells a chlorine solution that for $10 purifies enough water to meet a family's need for one year, said Mech, chairman of the Deep Springs board. The nonprofit serves about 30,000 people in Haiti.

The program is so effective that it is touted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the best approaches for Third World countries.

"Michael's program is one of the only programs in the world that has been shown not only to effectively treat household water on a consistent basis to reduce diarrhea, but also fully recovers all program costs through product sales," CDC public health engineer Daniele Lantagne said during a phone interview from London.

She and her assistants provide technical assistance to Deep Springs and other organizations in more than 40 countries around the world. She has been to Haiti 13 times, including twice to work with Deep Springs.

Unlike other models, she said, Deep Springs is community-based rather than national, and it recycles the solution bottles rather than requiring Haitians to buy a new bottle each time they restock.

Deep Springs produces such good results that it is featured in a CDC manual on water treatment.

Over five years, Lantagne said, more than 70 percent of families consistently use the Deep Springs product, and it reduces diarrhea among users in half.

"Diarrhea is actually the second largest cause of death in children worldwide," Lantagne said. If a child is malnourished or has another disease, diarrhea can be deadly.

She attributes part of the charity's success to Ritter's personality.

"He's a refreshing mix of very analytical but very practical," Lantagne said. "He's also very respectful and kind and very much treats the Haitians as his partners and brothers and sisters. He speaks fluent Creole and plays soccer with the kids every afternoon."

Ritter has been a good Samaritan since childhood.

As a youngster, he made drawings and sold them at church for charity, and he raised money for cancer research through walkathons, recalled his father, Jeff Ritter, 52, of Moon.

The idea for Deep Springs grew out of a business plan competition at Grove City. Michael Ritter, now 25, decided to move to Haiti about two years ago.

"I advised against that, but he was set on going down," his father said with a laugh. "It's not the safest country in the world, and it's a very difficult place to live."

He visited his son for a week two years ago and was impressed. He brought the rest of the family, Michael Ritter's mother, Karen, and sister Amy, last summer.

"At this point, I'm a convert," Jeff Ritter said. "Even before the earthquake hit, there was a dire need for safe water."

The earthquake destroyed houses and ruptured water mains, forcing residents of Port-au-Prince to move to rural areas that lack safe water.

Michael Ritter is working in those rural areas to help meet the water needs of refugees. His group has requested $400,000 to help 100,000 people.

"Probably the biggest need in an earthquake is to deliver water and repair the infrastructure so those people have water," Lantagne said.

Additional Information:

To learn more

For more information about Deep Springs International's safe-water treatment or to make a donation toward the effort, visit deepspringsinternational.org .

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