5 inventions that are saving lives in the developing world

We report a lot on the amazing technologies that will shape our future, but these often have a couple of things in common: they’re power-hungry and expensive. Great for us in the first world, less so for developing countries, where a lack of consistent electricity and an even greater lack of funds puts an immediate impassable spanner in the works.

5 inventions that are saving lives in the developing world

Inventors trying to get around these problems need to think outside of the box and come up with decidedly low-tech solutions to the problem. With such stark limitations in place, this is as tough – if not more so – as working with cutting-edge technology.

Here are five great examples.

The SALt lamp


To make this lamp run for eight hours you need two things: a glass of water and two tablespoons of salt. Communities along coastlines can just use ocean water.

“It requires no power and is safer than candles and lamps, with no risk of fire.”

SALt (Sustainable Alternative Lighting) intends to offer an alternative to kerosene- and battery-powered lamps. It requires no power and is safer than candles and lamps, with no risk of fire. It can even charge a smartphone.

The lamp works with a galvanic cell battery, which comes with two electrodes. When the electrodes are placed in the salty water, the power generated lights up an LED. Its creators reckon it has a lifespan of six months – a year if used alongside another light source.



There are parts of Africa where around 40% of food produce spoils before it can be eaten, partly due to a lack of refrigeration. How can you refrigerate food where electricity is patchy or unavailable?

Designed to be rugged and portable, and costing somewhere between £6 and £12, Evaptainers could be the answer.

As the name suggests, the portable fridge uses evaporative cooling to keep produce fresh.

Heat is drawn out of the Evaptainer’s interior onto aluminium plates. These are connected a fabric that is kept wet, allowing the heat from up to 60 litres of food to naturally dissipate.

It’s currently on trial in Morocco, but if successful this innovation could help millions around the world.


The LifeStraw


Even worse than food waste is the problem of unsafe drinking water. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,200 children die of diarrheal diseases every day – and much of this springs from unsafe drinking water.

“You could happily drink straight from the Thames with a LifeStraw.”

The LifeStraw purifies water as it is sucked through the straw, through filters and a chamber imbued with iodine. It gives the water a slightly bitter taste, but significantly better than injecting parasites. Each straw can purify 700 litres before needing to be replaced.

When it was first announced in 2006, LifeStraw producer Alan Mortensen told the BBC that you could happily drink straight from the Thames with a LifeStraw: “You might still taste some of the algae, but you could do it, no problem.”



Getting an eye test is something that we take for granted over here, but in many developing countries that just isn’t an option.

British company Eyejusters has come up with an innovative solution: glasses where the strength of the lens can be adjusted for the needs of the patient without an optometrist.

To do this, each set of glasses comes with “SlideLenses”. Each SlideLens is made up of two lenses which can be manually adjusted – as one passes over the other, the strength changes until the patient sees the world in perfect clarity.




Up until now, all of these have been power-free solutions, but here’s one that actually generates power in a low-cost way.

“Showboating a little, it also manages to purify four litres of drinking water a day.”

By keeping the panels facing the sun throughout the day, the SunSaluter manages to boost energy output by around 30%, and it does this without using electricity itself. How? Solar panels are mounted on a rotating frame, with a weight on one side and a water clock on the other.

As the water empties, the container gets lighter and the panel rotates to ensure it gets the most out of the sun’s energy. Showboating a little, it also manages to purify four litres of drinking water a day.


Have we missed any amazing low-tech solutions to problems in developing countries? Let us know in the comments.

Lead image: Arsenie Coseac used under Creative Commons. All other images via the manufacturer.

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