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ron rivera, potter devoted to clean water, dies at 60

updated tue 16 sep 08


miriam on mon 15 sep 08

Ron Rivera liked to call his ceramic water filters "weapons of =
biological mass destruction." For 25 years he traveled to poor villages =
throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia teaching local potters to make =
what appears to be a big terra-cotta flower pot but is in fact an =
ingenious device for purifying water.

Skip to next paragraph=20
Ron Rivera, who taught how to make life-saving filters, in 2005.=20

"You put dirty water in - gray water that many communities still drink - =
and it comes out crystal clear," he told an audience last year at the =
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in Manhattan, where his filters =
were included in an exhibition called "Design for the Other 90 Percent." =

A recent study in Cambodia found that the filters cut in half the =
incidence of diarrhea, a leading cause of death in the third world, =
especially among children.=20

Mr. Rivera died on Sept. 3 in Managua, Nicaragua, after contracting =
falciparum malaria, the most dangerous form, while setting up a =
water-filter factory in Nigeria, said Kathy McBride, his wife. He was =

Mr. Rivera, a Bronx-born Peace Corps volunteer who spent much of his =
life as a development worker in Central and South America, discovered =
his life's mission in Ecuador in the early 1980s. A Guatemalan chemist, =
Fernando Mazariegos, was showing local potters a ceramic pot he had =
invented. It was made of clay mixed with sawdust or ground rice husks =
that burned off during firing, leaving pores so tiny that they blocked =
the passage of water-borne bacteria while letting the water seep =

After being coated with a bacteria-killing silver solution, the pot =
effectively eliminated 98 to 100 percent of diarrhea-causing =
contaminants like E. coli, cryptosporidium and giardia.

The pot was easy to make and cheap to buy. Suspended inside a =
five-gallon container to collect the water, it could purify one to three =
quarts an hour, drawn through a spigot.=20

Off and on, Mr. Rivera began working with charities and development =
groups to set up workshops for turning out the filters. He later =
improved the filter by developing a mechanical press and standardized =
molds to ensure a consistent product.

After Hurricane Mitch cut a swath through Central America in 1998, Mr. =
Rivera, who had been doing development work in Nicaragua for the =
previous decade, joined with a tiny American organization called Potters =
for Peace and went into high gear. "He became the guy you went to to set =
up a filter factory," said Daniele S. Lantagne, an engineer working on =
safe water systems at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in =

Mr. Rivera often said that his goal was to set up 100 enterprises. The =
factory in Nigeria was his 30th.=20

Ronald Rivera was born to Puerto Rican parents in 1948. After graduating =
from World University in Puerto Rico, where the family moved when he was =
11, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years working in Panama. He =
went on to do development work in Ecuador and Bolivia with the Peace =
Corps and with Catholic Relief Services, although he was an atheist.

It was while studying with the radical educational theorist Ivan Illich =
in Mexico that he learned to throw clay pots. "Illich said that human =
beings were disconnected from the earth, and Ron realized that he did =
not really know how to do anything with his hands," Ms. McBride said. =
"So he moved in with a Mexican potter and learned."=20

In 1977 he married Maggie Padilla, whom he later divorced. She survives =
him, as does their son, Demian Rivera of Bloomington, Ind., and Mr. =
Rivera's four brothers: Larry, of Parkland, Fla.; Eddie, of Miami; =
Dennis, of Orlando, Fla.; and Louis, of San Diego. After he moved to =
Managua in 1988, he and Ms. McBride, who had been high school =
sweethearts, reunited and eventually married. Three stepchildren =
survive, Camilo Power of Brooklyn, Ana Gabriela Power of Norfolk, Va., =
and Maria Belen Power of Minneapolis.

For the last decade of his life, Mr. Rivera traveled all over the world =
setting up microenterprises in Ghana, Cambodia, Yemen, Colombia and =
other countries. Many thrived, especially after Mr. Rivera began =
organizing the workshops as profit-making microenterprises. Some =
produced filters for a short period and then shut down, either abandoned =
by their sponsors or caught up in political turmoil, as was the case =
with a workshop in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Beverly Pillers, the chairwoman of the board of Potters for Peace, said =
Mr. Rivera's factories had produced about 300,000 filters, selling for =
$5 to $25, and used by about 1.5 million people. At the moment, 13 more =
filter factories are scheduled to begin operating by the end of next =

"I saw Ron as a Pied Piper," said Robert Pillers, the treasurer of =
Potters for Peace. "He had the capacity to draw people in and then give =
them the means to accomplish something."

Sherron & Jim Bowen on mon 15 sep 08

Clean water is probably the most important resource that people around the
world need. Mr. Rivera was a great man.


----- Original Message -----
From: "miriam"
Sent: Monday, September 15, 2008 6:18 AM
Subject: Ron Rivera, Potter Devoted to Clean Water, Dies at 60