Does a dry, dusty future lie ahead?

It has been of significant help to many farmers, particularly in his home country Ethiopia, where crop losses are common due to waterlogging of farmlands.

Written by Onyedi Obiukwu

Illustration by Andrew Sutherland

It has been of significant help to many farmers, particularly in his home country Ethiopia, where crop losses are common due to waterlogging of farmlands. Low-cost and simple to use, the BBM ploughs waterlogged fields and drains the excess water from the soil, thus helping farmers plant more and often and conserve soil.

Prior to his innovation, most farmers in the highlands could only use of a quarter of their land because the rest was often too waterlogged. According to Aybar, close to 50 000 units sold in Ethiopia alone last year. Its success won Temesgen the Special Prize for Innovation with the Highest Social Impact at the 2014 Innovation Prizesfor Africa.

Sanitation is another area of great challenge; none of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa met the MDG targets for improving sanitation. “Sub-Saharan Africa has provided sanitation for less than 20% of the current population,” the Joint Monitoring Programme found. “Centralised, waterborne sanitation solutions are not viable for most rural areas and resource-constrained urban areas,” says Dudley Jackson, one of several Africans coming up with innovative, if not weird, sanitation solutions.

His Savvy Loo is so revolutionary, it is changing the perception that water-flush toilets are the sole means of adequate sanitation. The Savvy Loo is a waterless toilet which dries faeces for reuse as bio-energy and stores concentrated urine for extraction of nutrients and reuse as liquid fertiliser.

It got Jackson nominated for the Innovation Prize for Africa and has been lauded as a sustainable and affordable solution to the proliferation of unhealthy pit latrines which contaminate underground water tables. “Being a self-contained desiccating toilet, it provides dignity, prevents contamination of the user, and eliminates pathogens,” Jackson says.

It is also a potential shield against the predicted future of water scarcity, saving potential users an estimated 30 litres expended on flushing toilets daily. “Dry sanitation solutions would save a country such as South Africa about 300 billion litres of water each year,” Jackson says.

At the 2015 South Africa Sanitation Indaba, the South African minister of water and sanitation said that the country must work towards dry sanitation solutions for both low- and high-income households. Jackson is confident that the rest of the continent will follow suit in advocating dry sanitation and thus save trillions of litres of water, averting future water scarcity.

The Smartscan toilet is another sanitation innovation which could save more than 80 percent of the water expended in flushing toilets. Developed by South African company New World Sanitations Cooperation, it is a sewage digester and solar-powered water recycler that could reduce water used for flushing from 32 000 to 2 400 litres a year per household.

“We are aware of the challenges and numerous factors to be taken into account when designing a solution that will fit the unique South African and African environments,” CEO Jurgen Graupe said at the 2015 South African Sanitation Indaba.

The Smartscan comes with a reactor tank for sewage digestion and water recycling. Two sizes are offered: the smaller reactor has a volume of 1 600 litres, while the larger tank can take in 2 500 litres. After installation, the water tanks need to be topped up with 600 litres of water every three months.

“Maintenance required is very basic and can be performed by trained members of the community,” Graupe says. “The minor service involves flushing 500ml of anaerobic biological additive down the toilet once every three months. The major service: replace the nano filter set once per year, and de-sludge once per year.”

If Graupe’s Smartscan seems complex, Samuel Malinga’s solution is the extreme of simplicity. A sanitation engineer at Water for People Uganda, Malinga developed a set of low-cost sanitation technologies to addressing challenges in management of faecal sludge in schools, slums, and rural communities.

They are the DuraSan toilet, made of interlocking, precast concrete blocks; a low-cost pit-emptying pump called the Rammer, his answer to the problem of emptying full pit toilets in a sanitary manner; and a decentralised faecal sludge treatment system for areas lacking treatment plants. “The modular toilet can be constructed in two to three days,” Malinga says.

Like several others working on solutions to Africa’s water challenges, Malinga believes the answers have to be found within the continent, not outside it.

Akwar Hironga says the nano filter is one such innovation,“because it is now possible to use any kind of water available in someone’s vicinity. He points to the ability to tune nanomaterials to target specific contaminants in any source of water – ponds, rivers, lakes – as proof that any kind of water can now be purified and used for drinking.

“I believe that this and other African innovations – whether focused on the construction of wetlands, recycling or dry sanitation – will help us overcome our current water challenges and avoid a future of water scarcity.”

From left: Hilonga's nanofilter; Hippo roller; Aybar BBM

Opposite: Maji 1200

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