Smart water solutions that will disrupt Africa

Solving Africa’s water problems has become critical for the future of the continent. Xylem Africa has created new smart solutions that will benefit Africa. The Engineering Manager, Vinesan Govender, explained that Africa is not simply a dry continent. 

“Africa is not a very water-rich continent. We have pockets of water in parts of Africa, and the other parts of Africa really struggle with regards to two large bodies of water. In some areas, there is plenty of water, but you need to cover large distances to reach communities. In other areas, water is very scarce, and you need special interventions to reach it at all.”

African challenges need African solutions

Govender further explained that these issues apply to the macro and micro scales. He used the Ugandan capital of Kampala as an example. He explained that while cities like Kampala have access to water infrastructure, it is not the case for those living in rural areas. 

“The people living in Uganda’s capital Kampala has access to water infrastructure. But what happens when you go out into the rural areas and the big farmlands, where people are very sparsely situated? Pipes rarely get that far, as is evident from the high number of boreholes on the continent. This, in itself, creates challenges in Africa that need African solutions.”

The situation for water access on the continent demands serious attention. More than 40% – 783 million people – in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to an improved source of drinking water. What solutions will help change this picture?

The need for low-cost and decentralised water solutions

Govender explained that decentralised, low-maintenance infrastructure is a keystone for Africa’s water future. He added that there is no longer a need for large and centralised infrastructure. 

“Solar power is an example of how grids are being decentralised. Water can operate in the same way, especially when managing wastewater. It has become cost-effective to have more and smaller sites to manage water, and it’s much more efficient because you can calibrate that infrastructure to reflect the needs of the surrounding community. This improves performance and the longevity of the equipment.”

The benefits of smart water technologies

Africa can benefit from quantum leaps in water technologies which deliver much more efficiency, control and cost-management. Examples can include smart technologies that help spot leaks and inform planning. There are also vastly-improved water infrastructure designs and management philosophies.

These can address the many different scenarios found across Africa, each requiring a blend of international expertise and local context. Govender claimed that these solutions could effective anywhere on the continent. He added that in Gauteng borehole water can contain heavy metals due to mining activity 

“The water management in Africa is extremely poor, and in most cases, non-existent. We are not looking after our aquifers, which have become contaminated.”

He added that in Gauteng borehole water can contain heavy metals due to mining activity and could be added to water recycling. 

“We can manage those aquifers responsibly and even make them part of water recycling. The same counts for other water resources, such as the great lakes. These are renewable resources, but they are not infinite without the right water management culture.”

The need for chemical-free water solutions

Chemical-free disinfection of water is another pivotal solution that can disrupt water in Africa. Govender explained that technologies such as UV and ozone are not yet as cost-effective at large scales as chlorine. However, it is a very different case for smaller applications, such as community water supplies, water in tanks or water used for cleaning. He added that an enormous amount of chemicals enter Africa’s water ecosystems. He further explained that by applying chemical-free disinfection at strategic points can massively improve quality of life, and fight infections such as cholera and E. coli, without harming the same environment many subsist on.

The water evolution can happen through new ways of thinking, with technology to support them. 

“It is a pyramid effect, and smart technology sits at the very top of the pyramid. If you do not have the base of the pyramid in place, which is mindset, education and infrastructure, smart technology is not going to add any value.”

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