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Africa innovates on rural water issues

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Africa is home to more than 1,2-billion people, and all the continent’s nations share a common concern: how to maximise the use of water and preserve a resource that is essential to prosperity and growth.
It is these concerns that prompted inventors from across the globe to take part in the recent Standard Bank Water 4 Africa challenge. The competition concentrated on seeking global inputs in major areas of water conservation. These varied from ensuring the sustainability of groundwater, sanitation, and purification of water including solar, through to filtration and innovative solutions to promote wise water use.

One of the categories in the challenge centred on early stage solutions (new and promising concepts) to solve these issues, with three winners being awarded prizes of $2 000 each.

“The early stage category of the Water 4 Africa challenge attracted hundreds of entries, and the panel of judges selected three winners who impressed with their practical approaches to solving water challenges in communities,” says Jayshree Naidoo, Innovation Thought Leader at Standard Bank. “All three winners were from Africa, indicating the importance water has across the continent.”

The winning innovators are:

* Joel Mukanga (30) of Uganda, a community development officer, whose lifelong interest in innovation began while he was still at school. His concept, entitled “Basic WASH Management Program” to convey its focus on water hygiene and sanitation, concentrates on education and making WASH, in general, a cross-cutting focus in rural areas.
“The idea is to introduce education about water hygiene, sanitation and conservation into the education system at all levels, as education is a primary driver of change. As an integral part of the school curriculum, the defined syllabus would be an examination subject. This will encourage people to actively study water conservation and be able to make practical changes within their communities for sustainable water, hygiene and sanitation management,” says Mukanga.
The concept came to him when he saw a university professor in Uganda (with its high annual rainfall) failing to harvest water from the roof of his house, and buying water expensively during times when piped water managed by the National Water and Sewerage Co-operation (NWSC) was not flowing due to various technical hitches.
In the same vein, Mukanga saw that Makerere University manufactured and assembled an electric car in 2011. His view was that this technology was not sustainably beneficial, at least in the foreseeable future, yet a water saving project would be a key innovation to sustainably benefit Africa immediately.
“I think that in Uganda as a country, and on the continent of Africa, we need to put our priorities right to meet our felt development needs.”
Mukanga says that his prize money will be used to further develop his programme.

* For Felix Manyogote (24), a medical student in Tanzania, his motivation to enter Standard Bank’s Water 4 Africa challenge came from his determination to play a role in his community wherever possible. His entry also focused on education.
“I was touched by the increasing number of deaths in Tanzania related to waterborne diseases. I believe that children are the agents of sustainable positive change. The school WASH programme provides expertise and interventions aimed at saving lives and reducing illness through access to healthy and safe water. The role of children is to pass on the knowledge of hygienic behaviour from their schools to their families and communities.”
“The project aims to initially reach 5,500 children. The ultimate goal is to ensure that everyone has access to water, sanitation and hygiene at home. All schools and health centres must also have water, sanitation and hygiene systems that are sustainable.”

* Jim Murphy (47), who has a strong background in applied physics and electronics, relocated from the UK to Cape Town in 2011. His idea was to develop an electrically-powered (incorporating solar power), three-wheel water ‘trike’ capable of carrying large quantities of water from a water source to a village.
“It made sense to use an electric vehicle with an on-board water tank with a low cruising speed, but high torque to carry heavy loads. After being asked to consider purification of water, I began thinking about incorporating an electric pump to circulate the water through a canister filter to take out sand, silt and remove any muddiness in the water as part of the trike’s design,” says Jim.
The cost of the vehicles is about $2 000 each, so to get the project underway in Africa, corporate or NGO interest is vital. In the meantime, Jim will be using his prize money to construct his prototype.
“We extended the Water 4 Africa challenge to the world using ‘crowdsourcing’, a powerful tool to gather innovative ideas and identify practical solutions to address the water issues facing Africa.
“From Standard Bank’s perspective, it was very rewarding to see African solutions for African problems being developed in Africa,” concludes Naidoo.