Four unique water technologies transforming Africa

How four technologies may help Africa catch up with the millennium development goals missed in 2015

The Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation globally were met in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. However, according to a recent study by Afrobarometer, 45% of Africans do not have enough water for home use. One third of Africans, the report continues do not have access to piped water.

“As far as the most basic services that many of us take for granted – water, sewage, electricity, roads – an awful lot of people might as well be living in the 19th century,” Winnie Mitullah, lead author of the Afrobarometer report told CNN.

According to the UN in 2015 [PDF], “663 million people worldwide still use unimproved drinking water sources, including unprotected wells and springs and surface water. Nearly half [of these] live in sub-Saharan Africa”.

Yet, 93% of Africans own mobile phones. It is therefore clear that Africa can handle the water situation quite perfectly. With improving access to technological tools and expertise, African startups, investors and local governments are working to kick the water problems out of the continent. So, here are the four unique water technologies striving to provide access to clean water in Africa.


Automated water machines for Kenyan slums

To get water (either clean or polluted), 1.2 million slum dwellers in Nairobi (along with other African cities) tend to rely on water vendors. Where these vendors get the water is usually questionable as they do not care much about safety. In most cases, these vendors vandalise the city’s water pipes running close to the slums, or run their own parallel illegal installations. However, this is now going to end in Nairobi as the slums have their first ATM machines that are not dispensing cash, but clean water at the lowest ever price.

Tapping into the already well adopted mobile payments technology Grundfos, a Denmark-based pump manufacturer has teamed up with the City’s water company to provide slum dwellers with water ATMs.

“At Grundfos we already have a considerable experience with installed automatic water dispensers, where the benefits of revenue collection and water management are apparent to all,” Patrick Oketch, the Regional Business Manager, tells IDG Connect.

Users are given free smart cards. To get water, they need to load their card using mobile payment services or at the water point. They then need to key-in the amount of water they need in litres and swipe the card. Clean water is dispensed from the main reservoir to their waiting container. Here, the water costs $0.01 for a 20-litre container. The same would have cost the users approximately $0.5 from the informal vendors.

“Water Kiosks automated with Grundfos AQTAP [ATMs] have increased accessibility to water services in low-income areas, minimised water and revenue loss. With our development in mobile payment platforms, the people in these settlements will have freedom to tap water when they choose, rather than getting it from kiosks that are vendor operated,” Oketch informs us.

The company will install additional 100 of these ATM and eventually spread the technology to other African cities.


Smart water flow devices in Mozambique

Founded in 2014, Vamobi Net in Mozambique is a startup that uses hardware and software expertise to come up with smart water flow devices. The devices use tiny computers, as well as artificial intelligence data analysis and ultrasonic water flow sensing technologies, to enable water consumers to monitor and understand their water usage. These devices also enable the utilities to avoid water loss and effectively control where and when the water is delivered.

This technology will lead to a reduction in water costs and improve reliability giving more people in developing economies access to clean water.

The devices work alongside, or completely replace, the usual water metres with a pay-as-you-go model. “The small, medium and large water supply and distribution networks will be in a much better position to provide safe and a reliable water supply to your house and you will be in full control” the startup insists.


A “space capsule” for clean water, energy and internet connectivity in Ghana

Watly, in Ghana, is providing a solar-powered computer that looks like a space capsule. Its mission is to provide clean water, electricity and internet services to transform lives and economies across rural Africa.

The system uses photovoltaic panels on the surface of its module to harvest solar energy. The 140-kwh battery in the system then converts the captured solar energy into electricity. This is then used to power a water treatment system that uses a graphene-based filtering process, before the water is boiled and then distilled. The company claims this technology produces 5,000 litres of safe drinking water each day.

Over the next eight years, the company plans to install 10,000 of these machines in Africa. This is a move that will create direct employment to 50,000 Africans while greatly improving access to vital services including access to clean water on the continent.


Local materials – and silver nitrate – for water purification in rural Uganda

A startup in Uganda is re-inventing traditional African ceramic technologies to provide access to safe water in the country. Spouts of Water aims at “eliminating problems caused by unsustainable water solutions by providing a strictly business approach to improve access to clean water”.

In practice the startup presses a mixture of clay, rice husks and water using machines into flower pot mould. This is then allowed to dry before it is fired using a traditional ceramic firing kiln. This creates a natural filter.

“During firing, the rice husk combusts, leaving behind many 0.6-500 μm holes that physically remove contaminants from the water. The fired filters are then coated with silver nitrate, which acts as a biocide against the residual bacteria that may flow through.  The safe water storage reservoir prevents recontamination of treated water,” explains the company.

The startup has been able to sell over 400 of these filters to users in Uganda. It has also been able to team up with three NGOs in its operations to reach more users in the continent. In one public institution, Spouts has installed a large-scale filter that provides clean water to more than 35,000 people.


So what does all this mean?

Africa may not have been on schedule in the Millennium Development Goals on water. However, these four technologies provide some of the strongest reasons why the continent is getting in good shape to confront the water crisis.

Yet as Marco Attisani, Founder of Watly told CNN: “No technology can change the world without a human factor.”