SOUTH AFRICA, like many other developing countries, has a challenge when it comes to water and sanitation. These challenges include but are not limited to poor waste removal and clean drinking water. Because of the former, the latter gets escalated. As a result, millions of rural dwellers consume water that is contaminated with harmful bacteria, which have the potential of leading to diseases and sickness.
Because of the identified challenge, researchers at Stellenbosch University and Durban University of Technology have developed a technological device that seeks to address the challenge of lack of access to safe drinkable water. The technology is a point of use water treatment technology termed Woven-Fabric Microfiltration Gravity Filter (WFM-GF) that turns river, dam, rain, etc. water to safe drinking water, and is currently being piloted in the Capricorn District Municipality as a project of the Innovation Partnership for Rural Development Programme (IPRDP).
The technology has been developed by university students from South African rural areas in collaboration with rural inhabitants. The technology makes use of a gravity driven membrane water treatment unit termed the Woven-fabric Microfiltration gravity filter. It removes solids, colloids and pathogens that are I the water to make it safe and drinkable. However, it does not remove dissolved chemicals from raw waters. The technology is rolled out by the departments, with the University of Stellenbosch as the implementing agent. The design of the technology is made to be user friendly through the inclusion of the user’s (community households) input and giving them the opportunity to take ownership of the final product.
This technology is efficient for rural areas because some rural areas don’t have access to electricity and the technology does not require electricity as it is gravity operated. The device is easy to use. It looks like a water boiling urn. Its operational procedure is simply adding water to the tank, add disinfectant (Jik/bleach) to pure water containers, open tap and collect clean filtered water that is safe to drink. You repeat this process every time you want to clean and purify your water. The device only needs periodic cleaning (every two weeks to a month) of the membranes by simply brushing them.
The POU systems will ensure that these communities will be able to treat their water to acceptable standards. According to the designers, the systems will provide users with approximately 30 to 40 litres of safe filtered water for drinking and cooking daily. However the system has its shortcomings. According to Mrs Ngwatoana, even with the intervention of these systems, water still remains a challenge because of the drought. “Getting water is still a challenge because with these filters, we need to have water and currently, rivers and dams are dry. We therefore rely on water that occasionally comes from taps. We store them in bins and filter them for cooking and drinking”, so said Mrs Ngwatoana.
Mrs Makgopa and Kgoga, who are also beneficiaries of the project also commended the system for improving the challenge to clean and drinkable water but also mentioned a few shortcomings. One thing that is of general concern to the beneficiaries is that contrary to the theoretical literature that the system will offer 30 – 40 litres per day, the system has a slow flow rate that provides only 2 litres efficiently. From there, the filter only releases drops that take more than 5 hours to fill two (2) litres. “Imagine a scenario where we have visitors over and we want to show the device off and it fails. That would be an embarrassment and the guests would laugh at us”, so said Ms Makgopa with humour.
As far as the device goes in helping curb out water scarcity and access to clean and safe drinking water, it has its shortcomings as a result of the very same problem it seeks to address. When cleaning the device, the beneficiaries use water that is not clean. This leaves the filter with some form of contamination and the first few litres to be filtered after cleaning will not be of optimal standards.