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Meet Dr. Skywater, the Japanese Genius Behind Rainwater Recycling

Nov 14, 2016 04:30 AM EST

The global water crisis is getting worse and worse every single day. In Japan, there is a man who is trying to end this with the use of rain.

Makoto Murase, a pharmacologist by training and a retired government employee, developed his own urban water recycling system in the early 1980s. Murase's self-designed water recovery technology collected, filtered and kept rainwater in large underground storage tanks, preventing the flooding of sewers and also providing usable water for irrigation, toilets, washing and even drinking.

"I decided to call rainwater 'sky water' after learning the wisdom of our ancestors, who believed it was a gift from heaven and called it sky water with great respect,'' he told National Geographic. Hence, his nickname "Dr. Skywater."

With the proven success of his system's early version, which was first installed in Tokyo's Sumo Stadium, the city made it mandatory for all new buildings -- including the Skytree, the highest skyscraper in Japan -- to have their own underground rainwater tanks. Today, more than a thousand buildings in Tokyo harvest and recycle their own water from the rain.

But Murase's dreams are far bigger and further than Japan. "My dream is to solve drinking crises everywhere. We are living beneath the same sky," Dr. Skywater explains.

The Rolex Laureate, who have also founded the Institute for Sky Water Harvesting and Skywater Bangladesh, plans to spread his efforts in impoverished countries, such as Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

"My main concern is the bacteria, arsenic, and salt levels in rural areas. Too many communities have a drinking water crisis. They have no access to safe drinking water, or they have to fetch water from ponds every day," Dr. Skywater said. "Many people are too poor to pay for water, or they live in decentralized housing where no pipeline systems can be installed. Sky water is free."

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