Is Clean Water Technology a Solution for Africa?

drinking-pur-photo-by-greg-allgood.jpg

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