Is Clean Water Technology a Solution for Africa?

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Sarah Joanne Jakubowski, Africa CorrespondentLast Modified: 21:25 p.m. DST, 30 June 2014

Chief Executive Officer of N&M Technologies, Head Office, South Africa

GHANA, Accra -- Earlier this month, Medwyn Jacobs, CEO of New and Master Technologies (N&M) once again presented at Annual Ghana National Health Environment and Safety (NAHES) Conference where he reintroduced N&M’s water harvesting machine that can take water out of the atmosphere and filter it into usable drinking water.

N&M Technologies is a proud South African registered and based company that was established in 1989 by the current CEO, Mr. Medwyn Jacobs. N&M's focus has always been to meet the challenges facing South Africa and Africa through new and innovative means, and addressing Africa's clean water problems is one of them.

Mr. Jacob's had hoped to convince NAHES participates in 2013 to adopt the clean water generating solution that his company offered; however, the lack of enthusiasm has Jacobs worried because a year later nothing has changed. Yet, the stakes are higher than ever since groundwater sources across Africa have been depleted and people on the Continent are running out of places to look for water.

"Your country has so much humidity," Jacobs said to conference attendees. "You will never be short of water." Even better, he promises to open factories in Ghana that produce the machine, creating jobs and keeping resources local. However, reception of the machine during this conference remained half-hearted.

The audience questioned the machines safety. Had it been tested in a variety of humidities? Perhaps it would act differently in different settings? They questioned its efficiency. Can you reuse the filter? What if somebody didn't follow directions, reused the filter and gets sick?

Those at the conference did choose to sample the water produced by the machine, raising their glasses in a toast to N&M and Ghana before ceremoniously drinking the pristine water; but at the end of the day, Jacobs was no closer to deploying his company's solution than in 2013.

Potable water is a grave problem in many countries with emerging economies. It is especially dire in Asia, Africa, and South America. According to the World Health Organization there are “780 million people don't have access to clean water, and 3.4 million die each year due to water-borne diseases.”

N&M’s machine could be one remedy to this problem, and the fact that Africans seem reticent to deploy this on a larger scale is problematic. The technology of water reclamation from the air is not new. There is an Israeli company called Water-Gen that has developed an Atmospheric Water-Generation Units using its "GENius" heat exchanger to chill air and condense water vapor.

Their solution has been deployed on a large scale and according to an April 2014 article by CNNco-CEO Arye Kohavi explained that "The clean air enters our GENius heat exchanger system where it is dehumidified; the water is removed from the air and collected in a collection tank inside the unit.

From there the water is passed through an extensive water filtration system which cleans it from possible chemical and microbiological contamination," he explains. "The clean purified water is stored in an internal water tank which is kept continuously preserved to keep it at high quality over time."

The system produces 250-800 liters (65-210 gallons) of potable water a day depending on temperature and humidity conditions and Kohavi says it uses two cents' worth of electricity to produce a liter of water.” (Source: CNN)

N&M often researches foreign ideas and technology to develop innovative solutions, and perhaps if the idea of large-scale water reclamation from the air is not readily adopted, Ghanians and other Africans may be open to another aspect of water generating systems like portable water purification systems.

These machines may be of great assistance to communities where the people are subject to the daily backbreaking tasks of carrying water for cooking, washing, and bathing over many miles in hostile conditions, often in contaminated, non-biodegradable containers, such as plastics that previously contained toxic liquids/materials.

“Water-Gen has developed a portable water purification system. It's a battery-operated water filtration unit called Spring. Spring is able to filter 180 liters (48 gallons) of water, and fits into a backpack -- enabling water filtration on the go. You can go to any lake, any place, any river, anything in the field, usually contaminated with industrial waste, or anything like that and actually filters it into the best drinking water that exists," says Kohavi.” (Source: CNN)

This is not to say that individuals in Africa can afford a single device, but perhaps in the near future, the South African company N&M could partner with a company like Water-Gen to increase market share in Africa. Through the economies of scale, such a partnership could potentially introduce life-saving alternatives to porting and drinking contaminated water. The most important aspect of this opportunity is that the solution to address this critical issue is available and now it is just a matter of scaling and adoption, and with this, perhaps N&M will receive a warmer reception at the 2015 NAHES conference.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @SJJakubowski

Capitalism vs. Water Rights in Detroit City

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:45 p.m. DST, 26 June 2014

Hotel Granwood, Detroit, Michigan, Photo by  无忌 王伟

DETROIT, Michigan -- Despite numerous plans initiated by Detroit to encourage its residents to remain in the city, the once great Midwestern city of Detroit has done an about face.

In an otherwise tragic situation, some might say that rapacious forces now endeavor to further disenfranchise the hardscrabble, poorest of the poor who have toughed out the deteriorating living conditions in what was once known as Motor City.

In recent months the City of Detroit has gradually cut off public water access to its most impoverished and vulnerable residents. Since the water was shut off, "sick people have been left without running water and working toilets, and people recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages, nor can parents prepare food for their children to eat."

Water rights groups are calling the move calculated and designed to enable the city to shed its books of impoverished consumers who are unable and likely for the foreseeable future, remain unable to pay their water bills.

Technically, the Detroit Water Department is within its legal right to disconnect service for non-payment, but many of the people who have been impacted were not given notice of their impending water disconnection. The net effect was that thousands of people have lost access to public water.

In May and June when the disconnections began and water dried up around the city, a collective of human rights and water rights activists began to protest for Detroit to open up water pipelines, calling the move an attack on basic human rights. Multiple organizations in the community appealed to the United Nations to condemn these practices and bring international attention to the plight of these citizens.

Their efforts bore fruit, when news reports announced today that the U.N. has condemned the city of obstructing water rights which is a human rights violation. This is a clear cut case of blocking fair access to water rights by the poor, and puts America on par with other countries that have chosen to 'commoditize' water thus making it cost prohibitive and unaffordable for its poorest citizen.

Examples include, Bolivia, India, and Tanzania among others as detailed in an article by Anup Shahin, titled Water and Development. The statistics on this global problem of inadequate access to water and corporate greed is one that will only worsen.

Clearly, water termination disrupts basic health and wellness at a fundamental level. That an American city is subjecting its citizenry to these horrendous conditions is at odds with the perception that is promoted about the United States, both internationally and domestically. One which promulgates an image of equality for rich and poor, and that this country is free from many of the ills which plague developing nations.

This paradoxical move to cut water when the city is engaged in a campaign to encourage inbound migration, gentrification, and renovation of the iconic city only highlights the fact that its interests lies not with the populace but with the privileged. The infusion of millions of dollars into the city coffers from corporate developers as the city seeks to move out of bankruptcy, makes Detroit's squabbling over a few unpaid months of water bills all the more ludicrous.

Although, around 5,000 Detroiter's water has been cut off already, the city has plans to cut water access to 30,000 more households this year. Like so many cases in American politics and economics, the people at the top are quick to look down on the people at the bottom and assign blame and inflict upon them an untenable burden.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias

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Will Liberia Let Them Eat Dust?

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 14:16 PM EDT, 8 May 2012

African Man Carrying Potable Water, Photo by Oxfam InternationalMONROVIA, Liberia – Across Africa water shortages and drought are an increasingly prevalent phenomenon. Some instances are a consequence of natural disaster, but in some cases clean water is being hoarded by powerful factions and used to extort impoverished people, or as a means to subjugate a war-weary population.

According to the World Health Organization, “Africa has the lowest total water supply coverage of any region, with only 62% of the population having access to improved water supply. This figure is based on estimates from countries that represent approximately 96% of Africa's total population.

The situation is much worse in rural areas, where coverage is only 47%, compared with 85% coverage in urban areas. Sanitation coverage in Africa also is poor, with only Asia having lower coverage levels. Currently, only 60% of the total population in Africa has sanitation coverage, with coverage varying from 84% in urban areas to 45% in rural areas.” (Source: WHO)

This endemic problem continues unabated despite the United Nations passing Resolution: 64/292 on 28 July 2010, which decreed that every human being has the right to have access to water and proper sanitation, and to deny access to these is deemed a human rights abuse.

The West African nation, Liberia, is a country of firsts and lasts, the first African nation to have elected a female head of state, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and last according to the UN Human 2011 Development Index which ranks it at the bottom percentile of all countries and territories at 182 out of 187.

Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, is home to 1.1 million people in a country with a total population of nearly 4 million who live on less than US$1 per day according to 2010 World Bank data. As with most countries there is a growing divide among the rich and the poor, but in Liberia, unlike other nations with social service nets, the poor are subjected abject poverty exacerbated by abysmal living conditions.

Most of the city’s residents live in burned out buildings without access to running water, sanitation, or potable drinking water. Many have to walk miles to fill numerous small plastic jugs, large 'jerry' jugs, or empty petrol barrels which can weigh from 40 lbs. (80 Kgs) to 70 lbs. (32 Kgs) once filled. (Source: The Water Project.org)

Women, who are typically responsible for collecting the water, are often forced to walk miles to communal water pumps or rivers. In the case of water pumps, the water is often untreated, and in cases where river water is used, there is a high probability of exposure to water-borne illnesses which can be as life threatening as dehydration.

In West Africa, during what is called the Harmattan season, dry and dusty West African trade wind blows south from the Sahara, which starts in early November and last through April. During this time water tables also fall precipitously low, forcing people to walk longer distances to find water which has not been muddied by the fine particulates of sand which cover everything. Those who cannot afford to pay for water, or do not possess the constitution to walk the many miles to transport water to and from hand pumps and wells are most at risk of death.

Because of the lack of response from the government to this pressing human rights issue, many entrepreneurs, some unscrupulous, have developed profitable businesses selling bottled water at grossly inflated prices to city dwellers. The water which they sell is often untreated though marketed to the contrary.

According to the Liberian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT), in the vast slums of Monrovia water is sold on the black market where “five liters of clean water is sold for LD$ 20 Liberian dollars (US$0.28); while the same quantity is sold for LD $40-50 in areas with severe shortage of water.”

The lack of access to clean water and a working sanitation system is one of many complaints against President Sirleaf’s government. During her first term stated that if elected her government had “plans to construct 25 borehole wells in five counties to increase access to clean water, construct or rehabilitate 150 sanitation facilities in 10 of the 15 counties, and repair hand pumps, among other things. (Source: MICAT)

Though this did not materialize, President Sirleaf’s government cannot bear the entire blame, since the major infrastructure which would have been in place to repair and facilitate access to clean water and sanitation were destroyed during the nearly 11 years of constant civil war which began under Charles Taylor, the recently convicted war criminal and former president of Liberia.

According to the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare statistics, about 100,000 children under five and infants die annually from water borne diseases and related illnesses. Because of the lack of access to sanitation, many people are forced to relieve themselves in outhouses, ‘hanging toilets,’ or whatever secluded place they can find.

This results in the contamination of ground water and provides a fertile breeding source for various transmission vectors via insect or human to human contact. Some of the diseases to which people without proper access to clean drinking water can be exposed to are:

1. Diarrhea 2. Dysentery 3. Enteric Fever 4. Worm Infection 5. Louse Borne Fevers

Equally debilitating are the infectious diseases the populace can be exposed to as a consequence of lack of adequate sanitation:

1. Soil Transmitted Helminthes 2. Tape Worm 3. Filariasis (Elephantiasis) 4. Schistosomiasis

(Source: http://content.alterra.wur.nl/Internet/webdocs/ilri-publicaties/publicaties/Pub52/pub52-h4.0.pdf)

As stated in the beginning of this post, the problem of access to clean water is not unique to Liberia, or West Africa; however, it seems prudent that a implementing a substantive, quantitative, and verifiable resolution to this issue is essential to the economic recovery and growth of the country.

Now that oil reserves have been identified off the coast, it is incumbent upon President Sirleaf’s government to make sure that any proceeds from the sale of natural resources is poured back into the country to make the necessary improvements that will ultimately strengthen the country both economically, socially, and politically.

In her second term, President Sirleaf campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and it remains to be seen if she and her government do the right thing for their countrymen or like other African leaders, choose instead to line their pockets while their citizens ‘eat dust.”