Applying Ingenuity to Crises

Manhattan architect raises money to refit shipping containers into lifesaving devices

According to United Nations’ statistics, nearly 6,000 children around the world die on a daily basis from lack of clean water and poor hygiene.

With those fatalities in mind, New York City architect Shabbir Kazmi has worked to creatively apply his engineering skills to what many health experts say is a preventable problem.

Kazmi has founded “Project Life Line,” a non-profit organization that raises money to manufacture “self-sustaining medical mobile units” from shipping containers, a device Kazmi designed to provide clean water and medical care in areas hit hard by natural disasters, armed strife and poverty.

“Half of the containers get used, and half are sitting on the New Jersey turnpike,” said Kazmi.

Project Life Line held its first fundraising benefit event this week in Manhattan.

He created a design to equip each standard eight-foot high unit with a reverse osmosis water purification system, medical equipment and supplies, toilet, shower, sinks, wind turbines, solar panels and a gray water irrigation system. On the Project Life Line Web site, project-lifeline.org, a video details the construction process.

Kazmi has identified the source of many preventable diseases as the contamination that occurs in drinking water either by sewerage or other toxic contaminants, where simply boiling water doesn’t provide a sufficient supply of potable water. Through his own research, Kazmi concluded that a process called “reverse osmosis” is the best way to provide a clean water source.

After they are redesigned, the steel containers will be shipped to various sites, and begin providing urgent medical care. Depending on conditions, the containers can also become shelters for homeless families, with small communities arising around clean irrigation systems.

The project is looking into sites in Kenya and Pakistan, but as of now no containers have been sent out.

Kazmi plans to make as many units as he can. A prototype will cost $60,000, with each subsequent unit costing around $10,000.

On Monday evening, December 6 at Merkin Concert Hall near Lincoln Center, Project Life Line held its first benefit, “Sounds of the Piano: Bringing Water to Children,” featuring a wide array of vocalists and musicians, including Lenora Zenzalai Helm, Angela Ai, In The Gutter Theater Club and Raw Materials, an instrumental duo with pianist Vijay Iyer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.

“We are here to celebrate life. All the songs I’m performing are about life, about water and rivers, and the transforming power of life,” said Helm in between jazz tunes.

Ai, in a thoughtful moment between songs said, “This performance helps me realize the greater purpose my music and I serve.”

To learn more about Project Life Line, contact Shabbir Kazmi at shabbir@project-lifeline.org.

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