A safe source of drinking water for rural Malawi
The EU-funded WATERSPOUTT project's partners in Malawi are designing and testing an innovative solar-ceramic water filtration system capable of providing local communities with a reliable source of clean water at the household level.
© africa #33233315, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
The World Health Organisation and UNICEF estimate that out of the nearly 660 million people in the world who lack reliable access to safe drinking water, half live in sub-Saharan Africa. In rural areas that remain unconnected to any municipal piped water supply, entire communities must obtain their drinking water from unsafe sources. As a result, these populations are constantly at risk of contracting a range of diseases.
In light of this challenge, the EU-funded WATERSPOUTT project is working to provide safe drinking water to communities that currently rely on unsafe sources. Specifically, researchers are increasing the uptake of Solar Disinfection (SODIS) by designing, piloting and bringing to market three innovative solar-based technologies (solar rainwater reactors, solar jerry cans and solar-ceramic filtrations). SODIS uses freely available solar energy to inactivate pathogens in water stored in transparent containers placed in direct sunlight.
Unlike traditional SODIS systems, which typically treat only two litres of water, the WATERSPOUTT solution will treat the large volumes (20L) needed by rural communities. In parallel to the development of this technology, the project also launched an outreach effort that, with the support of local authorities, aims to ensure that these technologies are adopted by the targeted communities.
Spotlight on Malawi
Malawi currently reports 86 % drinking water coverage for the country. Although access to safe water is increasing, there are blind spots where limited access is a result of poor governance, high non-functionality, technical failure and water inequality. The most affected are in rural areas, where the water crisis is compounded with poverty and lack of public investment.
WATERSPOUTT Malawi is working with product designers and local communities to develop a combined solar disinfection and ceramic filtration unit to treat water at the household level, says Kingsley Lungu of the University of Malawis (UNIMA) Centre for Water Sanitation Health and Appropriate Technology Development (WASHTED), the projects partner in the country. This system will then be tested for efficacy and user acceptability through stringent controlled and field testing.
UNIMA is playing a key role in the design, testing and evaluation of a first-of-its-kind prototype household water treatment technology that combines the basic principles of SODIS with a ceramic filter. Building on previous SODIS systems, the prototype aims to increase the acceptability of solar water disinfection by both increasing the volume of drinking water that can be produced and by providing a consistent volume of water at the household level irrespective of weather conditions. Whenever possible, researchers are also using locally available materials for production, thus increasing opportunities to move towards commercialisation.
To ensure that the filtration system will be used by local households, UNIMA researchers are conducting shared dialogue workshops to get community feedback on the concept, adds Lungu. This input is then integrated into the prototype, which we are actually co-designing with potential end-users and beneficiaries.
Initial results look promising
Initial results on the use of the SODIS bucket with a 1 % stabiliser under controlled testing has shown to be effective at treating contaminated well water and reducing pathogens to a safe level for consumption, says Lungu. This raises the potential opportunity for the use of a large volume SODIS system as a treatment solution on its own.
Testing of such a combined solar-ceramic system will commence in October 2018. UNIMA will test the prototype at 777 households in southern Malawis Chikwawa district.