Safe water solutions thanks to Euro-African 'cleantech' collaboration
Clean water is a human right and a major contributor to sustainable development. But large parts of Africa still have very poor access to it. That needs to change and an EU-backed international consortium is working on clean water technology programmes targeting sub-Saharan Africa. Sustainable, locally-adapted solutions to this complex challenge are the key.
© Riccardo Niels Mayer #85738353, 2019 source:stock.adobe.com
In sub-Saharan Africa, a staggering 108 million people have limited or even no access to clean water. Scarcity, poor quality and inadequate sanitation can have domino effects on food security, health, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. There is a lot at stake.
“Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in and there is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this,” notes the United Nations about its Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation). “However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.”
The EU-funded SafeWaterAfrica project joins European partners from Germany, Italy and Spain with deep knowledge of new water purification technologies together with academic and industrial partners in South Africa and Mozambique whose local experience is driving progress on the ground.
“The project is uniquely placed to research and develop an autonomous and decentralised water purification system which is fit for purpose,” says Lothar Schaefer from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST, the project’s coordinator. “That means we need to adapt the technologies for rural and peri-urban needs in Africa, taking into account the technical, energy and cost concerns for both installation and maintenance.”
Above all, the solutions need to be simple and highly effective at breaking down harmful pollutants and cleaning out other impurities, but also able to break down barriers to acceptance among sometimes very traditional rural communities. “The target is really to deliver an autonomous ‘Made in Africa’ solution, combining the latest low-energy cleantech from Europe and pre-treatment processes from South Africa, to meet local needs (up to 300 users per installation),” the team stresses.
Some special features
An integral part of the solution is a new European water treatment technology based on the energy efficient production of strong oxidants, produced electrochemically from the water molecules in the water sources to be treated, called ‘CabECO’. The technology is ideal because it needs no additional chemicals to do its job of degrading persistent organic pollutants, as well as killing harmful microbiological contaminants.
The selection of field test sites carefully considered the social, cultural and financial aspects of the communities concerned. Site-specific conditions also clearly influenced the treatment platform demonstrators being designed and operated in Mozambique and South Africa. Due to the geography and lack of infrastructure, new techniques had to be developed to monitor water quality and system operation remotely. Additional technologies and special features developed by SafeWaterAfrica consortium members include:
A last feature of the project’s work involves business-modelling and capacity-building measures, such as skills training for local operators.
Made in Africa
“Rural communities face the dual challenge of increasing risks associated with deteriorating water quality due to anthropogenic activities and the emergence of new pollutants that challenge the traditional safe water supply options that we are used to,” says Renato Solomone from the National Directorate of Water Supply and Sanitation in Mozambique. “We need to work on both fronts, creating technological solutions for easy deployment, but also dealing with the complexities of water quality, including brackish water,” he added.
From the outset, SafeWaterAfrica focused heavily on developing and implementing the best water treatment solutions that can be sustainably produced, installed, run and maintained in Africa by local operators, ensuring the programme is widely accepted and taken up upon completion.
“And to achieve the goal of creating new jobs that boost social well-being and promote economic growth in the rural and peri-urban areas of southern Africa, it is vital to cooperate on an equal basis. This is the only way to ensure that the communities take over responsibility and ownership of the ‘Made in Africa’ solutions,” concludes Schaefer.