Water Crisis in Kenya’s SlumsKenya, a country in East Africa, has a population of more than 50 million, with about 4.4 million residing in the capital city of Nairobi. The combination of a dry climate and a rapidly growing population has caused a water crisis in Kenya’s slums, where citizens in poverty live in informal settlements without water infrastructure.

Origins of the Crisis

Urbanization plays a large role in this crisis. While 90% of urban residents had clean water in 1990, this figure fell to 50% in Nairobi as the city’s population nearly quadrupled. The city began rationing water in 2017. The Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company estimates that supply still falls 25% short of demand. Informal settlements lack piped water, and the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that water from vendors or surface sources often contains contaminants.  

The Kenyan government struggles to address the water crisis in Kenya’s slums due to the informal nature of the urban settlements. Aid organizations and private nonprofits also fail to provide long-term relief, with more than 60% of water projects failing in their first year. 

Well Aware Executive Director Kareece Sacco told The Borgen Project that “There’s the first water crisis that everyone is aware about that’s left people lacking access to reliable clean water. But the second one, as we have termed it, is the failure of the system.” Well Aware is a nonprofit with more than 70 successful water projects in East Africa.

In 2021, the organization plans to complete a new water project for the Ingrid Education Center in the Kayole-Soweto slum in Nairobi. Speaking on the systemic failures that perpetuate the water crisis, Sacco explained that “a lot of organizations doing similar work don’t have these long term relationships with these communities, and they’re just not being empowered in the correct way to help maintain them [water systems].” Strengthening local partnerships with aid organizations empowers Kenyans in poverty to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums.

The Challenges

Without connections to a water source, residents of the Kayole-Soweto slum often trek long distances to provide water for their families. This chore falls mostly on women and girls, which worsens gender inequalities in the area. The World Bank interviewed residents of Kayole-Soweto, and many within the population claimed they often resorted to purchasing water for high costs from vendors who take advantage of this need. The vendors also sell water of questionable quality to slum dwellers for discounted rates, which cause health and sanitation issues throughout Kayole-Soweto. 

The Impact of Local Partnerships

Aid and non-governmental organizations that effectively engage in local partnerships directly address these issues. For example, Well Aware maximizes its impact by partnering with local schools to drill wells, which increases education rates overall by 34% and increases education rates for girls by 58% on average. Sacco told The Borgen Project that “if we do a drill at a school, most of the time, we’ll set up a kiosk at the road for the community to be able to come too.” This is how water projects with local partnership components make a larger impact. By engaging directly with local partners, projects to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums are more responsive to the needs of those in poverty.

Slums also struggle with incorporating traditional connections to water sources. Piped water requires large initial investments that individual households in slums cannot bear, and this has adverse health and sanitation effects. As a result, the decision to implement piped water systems in the slums of Kayole-Soweto and other locations favors landlords who pool money from multiple sources. This poses additional barriers to clean water for slum-dwellers in poverty. 

Water projects that utilize innovative solutions to the water crisis in Kenya’s slums circumvent traditional barriers to water access. For example, Stanford University water projects in Kenyan slums utilize the fact that around 70% of urban Kenyans own cell phones to innovate apps and mobile services that help slum dwellers pinpoint water locations. Similar ideas come from courses at Stanford University that prioritizes local partnerships and requires in-person meetings in Kenya with local leaders. This demonstrates how local partnerships foster innovative solutions that accurately meet the needs of locals in poverty. 

The Future of the Water Crisis in Kenya’s Slums

The water crisis in Kenya’s slums becomes more urgent as infrastructure fails to keep up with population growth. USAID reported that the Kenyan government drastically increased spending on the water sector, as adequate progress requires $14 billion in the next 15 years. As a result, the Kenyan government needs international aid and private assistance from humanitarian organizations to bridge the gap. Current water project financing in the country consists of 64% donor funds. This creates an opportunity for donors to find new methods of delivering water access apart from traditional government-provided public goods. 

Rapid urbanization in Kenya exacerbates the existing water crisis in the country. With many new arrivals to Kenya’s cities ending up in slums, inequality and failures of traditional water systems to adequately serve the needs of citizens in poverty have further worsened the water crisis. As donors continue to drive the financing of the water sector in Kenya, opportunity grows for innovative partnerships with local actors in Kenya’s slums. Kayole-Soweto exemplifies this by using unconventional tools for water access, including building wells on school land and using cell phone technology. Local partnerships empower residents of Kenya’s slums to find the best solution to the water crisis for themselves.

– Viola Chow
Photo: Unsplash

The Thirst Project For many in developed countries, it is easy to take for granted how accessible clean water is at any given moment. However, this is not the case in lower-income countries. The Thirst Project is making waves in the global water crisis by providing support and better access to water for communities around the world.

About the Thirst Project

The Thirst Project is committed to building clean water wells and increasing access to clean water around the globe. Clean water improves the health, economy and overall wellbeing of the communities that the project serves. Safe water also improves hygiene and protects the community from diseases. Additionally, clean water wells and water filters not only provide safe drinking water but also offer the resources to create a healthier agricultural environment.

Over the past year, the Thirst Project has formed valuable partnerships to create additional funding opportunities. These partnerships also increase visibility and engagement in the organization. Shawn Mendes recently created a partnership with Flow, an eco-friendly alkaline water company, to create a new line of alkaline water flavors.

Moreover, the Shawn Mendes Foundation, along with other companies and the Thirst Project, will provide grants and awards to the many “young people and youth-focused organizations working on water conservation and clean water access.” As part of this partnership, the Thirst Project and the other grantees will have access to the Shawn Mendes Foundation’s Instagram where they can use the platform to highlight their mission, current work and projects. This will increase the overall awareness of the organizations and promote the Thirst Project’s work.

Renaissance Renovations

The Thirst Project continues to build its partnerships with local companies as well. In April 2021, Renaissance Renovations highlighted their partnership with Thirst Project. Renaissance Renovations acknowledged the amount of clean water the company consumes in its business of power washing. Moreover, the owner of Renaissance Renovations, John Orsillo, committed to making a difference. Orsillo is also passionate about the importance that youth play in helping to make a difference. Renaissance Renovations has committed to donating 1% of the company’s revenue to the Thirst Project. Moreover, Renaissance Renovations has launched its own fundraising campaign with a $12,000 goal. The donations will go toward the funding of a well for a water-insecure community.

Youth Contributions

The contributions of the youth set the Thirst Project apart from many other nonprofits. After Thirst Project volunteers visited a high school in Williamsburg, Virginia, a local teen became motivated to do his part in contributing to the water crisis efforts. Bryce McHose and a few of his classmates have launched a personal fundraising effort. These efforts have rendered monetary contributions through various fundraisers, including local car washes and partnerships with local businesses. Contributions are put toward the overall goal to raise enough funds to cover the cost of one $12,000 well. McHose and his classmates are dedicated to contributing to sustainable access to clean water around the globe.

Addressing the Water Crisis

Contributions do not always appear through funds. It takes a significant amount of people to make fundraising efforts impactful and the Thirst Project is mobilizing its contributors in any way it can. By utilizing a strong youth support system and creative partnerships, the nonprofit is creating platforms for volunteers to contribute their time, resources and money to give attention to the global water crisis and the importance of global access to clean water.

Janell Besa
Photo: Flickr

Volcanic Eruption in the DRCOn May 22, 2021, the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo erupted. Hundreds of thousands of people experienced the aftershocks, including contaminated water and structural damage. The destruction of water infrastructure means 500,000 people now lack access to a safe water supply. In a press release, USAID announced that it would be committing $100,000 worth of humanitarian aid to secure clean and safe drinking water for citizens affected by the volcanic eruption in the DRC.

History of Mount Nyiragongo

The Nyiragongo volcano stands almost 12,000 feet tall on the eastern border of the DRC in the strip of Virunga Mountains, a chain of active volcanoes. The volcano is one of the most active in the world and has the largest, most active lava lake. Nyiragongo has erupted several times since 1884, with the most severe eruption occurring in 1977, taking up to 400 lives. The most recent eruption before 2021 occurred in 2002, resulting in about 100 deaths and displacing up to 400,000 people.

The Aftershocks of the 2021 Eruption

The 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC led to about 32 deaths and thousands of displacements. On May 30, 2021, in a period of just 24 hours, 92 aftershock earthquakes and tremors occurred but only about four were felt by citizens. For safety purposes, more than 400,000 people were evacuated from the North Kivu area.

Cholera, a diarrheal infection caused by drinking contaminated water, is an increased threat since the eruption.  Natural disasters often increase the risk of epidemics, especially those transmitted via contaminated water. The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in the DRC caused the destruction of a vital water pipe and damaged a water reservoir. The damage cut off water access for about 500,000 people.

On June 7, 2021, UNICEF and partners announced that they were working to restore the water supply to the area. For temporary water access, UNICEF “installed 15 emergency station chlorination points” close to Lake Kivu. UNICEF also committed to assisting a task force by “supporting installation of 1,500 meters of pipe on top of the lava to replace pipework that has melted.”

The Hope of Crisis Assistance

Prior to the 2021 volcanic eruption in the DRC, the nation was already struggling with a humanitarian crisis, following years of political violence and conflict. At the beginning of 2021, the United Nations predicted that 19.6 million people in the DRC were in need of humanitarian assistance. With more than five million displaced persons and the highest recorded levels of food insecurity before the eruption even took place, the humanitarian crisis in the DRC has only grown. The U.N. requires financial assistance from the international community in order to comprehensively address the crisis in the DRC.

The United States serves as the largest donor to the DRC, providing more than $130 million worth of humanitarian assistance in 2021 alone. The U.S. commitment of $100,000 for water security initiatives in the DRC will aid the efforts of organizations such as UNICEF, protecting the well-being of vulnerable Congolese people.

– Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in BangladeshBangladesh, a South Asian country bordered by India, is one of the most impoverished and most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh currently has a population of 161 million in an area slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Iowa. Bangladesh’s economy relies heavily on agriculture as 63.2% of the country’s population works in industry and agriculture. Even with an unemployment rate of less than 4%, the poverty rate is 21.8%. The dense population, small area, reliance on agriculture and poverty rate cumulatively create a crucial need for clean water. Humanitarian organizations aim to improve the water quality in Bangladesh.

10 Facts About Water Quality in Bangladesh

  1. Water quality in Bangladesh has been a long-term struggle. Since the country’s independence in 1971, international aid agencies have helped Bangladesh with its water crisis. At the time, a quarter of a million Bangladeshi children were dying each year from bacteria-contaminated surface water. Bacteria and pathogens, such as E. coli, cholera and typhoid, were causing severe health problems for both children and adults.
  2. Bangladesh relies on groundwater. Because of contaminated surface waters in the region, 90% of the population relies on groundwater. Groundwater is the water that lies below the earth’s surface between soil pore spaces and fractures of rock formations. This water source is accessible through tube wells in the region.
  3. UNICEF and the World Bank attempted to improve access to water in Bangladesh. To combat the poor-quality surface drinking water and provide more water for agriculture, these organizations funded the installation of about four million tube wells between 1960 and 1970. The tube wells created access to groundwater throughout the entire country. Unfortunately, this led to mass poisoning due to contaminated groundwater.
  4. The largest mass poisoning in history occurred in Bangladesh. In the 1990s, arsenic was detected in the well water. The wells dug in the 1960s and 1970s were not tested for metal impurities, impacting an estimated 30-35 million people in Bangladesh. Ailments from exposure to arsenic include gastrointestinal diseases, physical deformities, cancer, nerve and circulatory system damage and death. About 1.12 million of the four million wells in Bangladesh are still contaminated with arsenic.
  5. Poor water quality significantly impacts public health. Arsenic poisoning is now the cause of death for one out of five people in Bangladesh. An estimated 75 million people were exposed to arsenic-laden water. The poisoning can cause up to 270,000 future cancer-related deaths. E. coli is also still present in 80% of private piped water taps and 41% of all improved water sources. Sickness from poor water quality is a major issue and 60% of Bangladeshi citizens do not have access to modern health services.
  6. Poor water quality impacts agriculture. Bangladesh relies heavily on agriculture with 70% of its land dedicated to the cultivation of rice, jute, wheat, tea, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits. The contaminated tube wells provide a majority of the water used for irrigation. As a result, high levels of arsenic are absorbed by many crop plants, specifically rice and root vegetables. This can be deadly to those who consume the produce.
  7. Contaminated wells are still in use. After the testing of tube wells in 1997, the government painted the contaminated wells red and the safe wells green to reduce exposure. However, officials used poor testing kits to examine the wells, leading to incorrectly marked wells. Unfortunately, many green-marked wells hold contaminated water that the public still uses. Additionally, the wells that were marked red were never properly closed off and can still be used today.
  8. Poverty plays a role in access to clean water. Both the wealthy and the impoverished in Bangladesh struggle greatly with poor water quality. However, the population living below the poverty line struggles three times more from water-related diseases and illnesses. Roughly two million people in poverty still lack access to improved water sources. Bangladesh is also one of the most impoverished nations in the world, with a per capita income of around $370. This greatly affects the government’s ability to combat the water crisis.
  9. Poor water quality limits the country’s potential. The economy, public health and education all rely on access to clean and usable water. Poor water quality has led to stunting in more than one-third of Bangladeshi children. These developmental impacts limit education and result in an increase in poverty. The mortality rate of those who have come in contact with contaminated water sources will continue to devastate the economy. Over the next 20 years, this could lead to a loss of about $12.5 billion for the Bangladesh economy.
  10. The water quality in Bangladesh can improve. There are many ways to combat the water crisis in Bangladesh. Creating mechanisms to enhance rainwater capture would provide a better-quality source of usable water. Along with rainwater capture, water purification methods and the construction of a water treatment plant would eliminate contaminants from surface and groundwater. Funded projects by groups like Charity: Water, Lifewater and WaterAid are working to improve sanitation and water quality in Bangladesh.

The Road Ahead

Bangladesh has shown steady and vast improvements in many areas. Life expectancy has grown dramatically in the past few years and now averages 72 years. Bangladesh’s per capita income has also increased and is growing faster than Pakistan’s. Furthermore, Bangladesh shows an upward trend in per capita GDP with an increase of 6% per year. However, water quality still poses a critical issue in Bangladesh. With commitment from the government and humanitarian organizations to resolve the water crisis, Bangladesh will continue to grow and prosper.

Kate A. Trott
Photo: UNICEF

Water Pollution in IndiaIndia is infamous for its heavily polluted air. However, with up to 80% of its water contaminated, water pollution in India is just as prevalent and dangerous. Polluted waterways affect the standard of living of many Indian families, especially those within impoverished communities. Additionally, contaminated water creates unsustainable environments for aquatic life. Toxic waste such as discarded plastic and domestic sewage is damaging the fishing industry, which makes up a large portion of India’s economy. In an effort to combat water pollution, the Indian state of Kerala has started an initiative to recycle ocean plastic into materials for road construction, saving the jobs of fishermen and protecting the environment.

Water Pollution’s Impact on Livelihoods

Urban areas in India generate approximately 62,000 million liters per day (MLD) of sewage water. With the capacity to only treat 23,277 MLD, more than 70% of the sewage in urban areas does not receive treatment. The untreated waste often ends up in nearby water bodies such as the River Ganges, one of 10 rivers accounting for “90% of the plastic pollution that ends up at sea.”

Because of the water pollution, India’s rivers are in a dire state and citizens suffer health and economic impacts. The pollutants entering the water leave it contaminated and unsafe to consume. In 2018, more than 163 million people in India did not have a source of safe drinking water, leading to people relying on rivers for drinking water.

The polluted water also affects the fish that rely on healthy bacteria to survive. As a result, incidents of mass fish deaths are increasing at an alarming rate. Without fish in India’s waterways, millions of people will be out of work. As of 2020, India ranks third globally in fishery production and the fishing industry employs more than 145 million people.

Small-scale fisheries, which supply 55% of the total fish production, are critical for reducing poverty and food scarcity in local communities. Freshwater fisheries also help improve water quality and soil conditions on land, positively aiding agriculture. For this reason, water pollution in India is harmful to the agriculture and aquaculture industries.

Repurposing Plastic Pollution

Concerned for their futures, fishermen in Kerala, India, are taking part in an environmental initiative to keep their waters clean. In 2017, the local government put out an order to minimize water pollution. Fishermen in Kerala have answered the call. Kerala relies substantially on the fishing industry, which brings in approximately $14 million in revenue.

The government passed the Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) project, requiring harbor authorities to distribute nylon bags to fishermen so that they can store the plastic pollution that gets caught in their nets instead of throwing it back into the sea. Construction companies buy the collected plastic in shredded form and use it to build new roads. Cleaning and sorting the gathered plastic provides jobs to local women in Kerala.

When mixed with asphalt, the plastic component makes India’s roads more resistant to intense heat. In addition to helping the environment, the process is saving India money by reducing the cost of building roads by “8–10% per kilometer of road paved with plastic as compared with a conventionally built road.” Every kilometer of road utilizes about 1 million plastic bags. As of April 2021, the project has collected about 176,000 pounds of plastic and has built 135 kilometers of road, creating many employment opportunities in the process.

Fighting Poverty and Environmental Degradation

Properly developed roads contribute to economic growth. By building and maintaining roads to rural communities, India can ensure the economic development of these areas. Roads to rural communities improve access to education and reduce costs for transportation, trade and production. However, funding for rural infrastructure is usually low on the list of budgetary priorities for the Indian government. Repurposing ocean plastic for use in building materials reduces the cost of roads while simultaneously combating water pollution in India, thus reducing poverty overall.

– Samantha Fazio
Photo: Flickr

Water Filters to EthiopiaIn 2012 and 2014, NativeEnergy visited Ethiopia to assess the water situation and determine the viability of water filters. According to NativeEnergy, about 65% of people in the Sidama Zone of Ethiopia are forced to utilize “unclean water sources.” In 2019, about 98.52% of people in Sidama voted for it to be an autonomous, self-governing state. In June 2020, the state became independent. However, the people of the Sidama Zone and other rural areas in Ethiopia face serious issues regarding access to clean water sources. To address this issue, the Desert Rose social enterprise is providing water filters to Ethiopia.

Water Studies in Ethiopia

According to Water.org, only around 42% of Ethiopians have access to clean and safe water sources. In rural areas of Ethiopia, access to clean water is even more limited. Severe climate conditions and political issues largely contribute to Ethiopia’s water shortages. Many rural Ethiopians resort to collecting water from water sources that are often contaminated and only serve to spread disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) outlines the consequences of drinking unclean water. Contaminated water sources lead to the spread of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Agriculture is central to the lives of almost 95% of people in Sidama. Since agriculture plays a significant role, water is needed for a thriving agricultural industry that supports food security and livelihoods in Sidama.

Desert Rose

Desert Rose is an Ethiopian-based social enterprise that has focused on community development through engineering consulting in rural Ethiopia since 2008. Thomas Berger, a swiss anthropologist, and British engineer, Andrew Smith, established Desert Rose as a force for social good. Desert Rose has come up with a water filter solution to ensure Ethiopian people in rural areas like Sidama have access to clean water.

The water filter called Minch is able to mechanically remove 99.9% of E. coli bacteria. There is no need for chemicals and the filter is much more effective than conventional biosand water filters. The Ethiopian government tested the filter. It is simple to use, “lasting up to two years in rural areas and up to five years in the towns.” The low-cost filter targets impoverished communities in Ethiopia. The water filter is produced entirely in Ethiopia, enabling the company to save on costs and keep the water filter affordable to all. The filter also has “an internal 15-liter water reservoir” to protect water from contamination during storage.

The Minch water filter provides a form of water purification for Ethiopian households who cannot afford to boil water due to the high cost of firewood. After three years in development, by 2019, Desert Rose produced 1,000 water filters. Oxfam bought 50% of these filters for use in its humanitarian efforts. With funding and support, the Minch water filter has the potential to reach large-scale production so that all Ethiopians can have access to clean water.

Water for All

Since water access and poverty are linked, better water access means reduced poverty. According to the United Nations, water is essential for socio-economic development and plays a significant role in decreasing “the global burden of disease and improving the health, welfare and productivity of populations.” With companies and organizations working to improve water access in Ethiopia, poverty in Ethiopia is reduced.

– Jacob Richard Bergeron
Photo: Flickr

Increase Access to clean waterAccess to clean water is a basic human right, but as of 2017, 884 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and more than two billion people do not have access to fundamental sanitation facilities. These issues have become more pressing as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many into poverty and increased the world’s need for adequate sanitation to prevent the spread of th virus. The sixth Sustainable Development Goal is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030. Organizations are working together in a greater effort to increase access to clean water.

7 Innovations for Water Access

  1. Majik Water. Founded by Beth Koigi, Anastasia Kaschenko and Clare Sewell, Majik Water is a Kenyan company that engineers solar-powered filters capable of harvesting drinking water from the air. Koigi was the victim of water scarcity while at university and sought to create a device that would reduce water scarcity in Kenya and beyond. The device has the potential to provide water to the 1.8 billion people globally who may be without reliable access to water by 2025.
  2. Gravity Water. A majority of the people in the world who do not have access to clean drinking water live in tropical and subtropical areas where fresh water is plentiful. Gravity Water wanted to create a system that would allow people in these areas to take advantage of the water they have access to but are unable to drink because of pollution and contamination. “Through harvesting rainwater and storing it above ground, Gravity Water systems provide pressure for filtration without the dependency of electricity, which is commonly lacking in rural areas.”
  3. Ashok Gadgil and Vikas Garud. While UV water filtration is a proven way to purify water, these systems are expensive due to the materials needed to build them. Ashok Gadgil and Vikas Garud have developed a modified version of these devices. UV lamps placed above water tanks filter the water and then use gravity to separate the drinkable water from residue inside. The device is smaller than traditional underwater UV devices and is able to disinfect 1,000 liters of water an hour.
  4. Guihua Yu (University of Texas). Guihua Yu and his team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin created a device that can be used in disaster situations and areas without access to clean water. The device uses water-absorbent hydrogels that release water when heated and work in both humid and dry climates. The water comes from the air, and when the hydrogels are exposed to sunlight, the water is released. The device also runs on solar energy, making it affordable and sustainable.
  5. Innovative Water Technologies (IWT). Jack E. Barker founded Innovative Water Technologies (IWT) to develop global water treatment facilities to be used in humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. These solar and wind-powered water filtration systems can process 5,000-250,000 gallons of water a day. IWT has four different products, all of which bring clean water to those in need,
  6. Dar Si Hmad. Dar Si Hmad is a female-run nonprofit organization based in Morocco. Its water project makes use of fog collectors, also known as the “cloud fishing” technique. A fine mesh gathers droplets of water in areas with thick fog such as Southwest Morocco. Once enough water is gathered, the water falls into a basin and is filtered using solar-powered filters. The water is then piped to 140 nearby households. The fog-catching system is able to provide 6,000 liters of water daily.
  7. The Drinkable Book. WATERisLIFE and Dr. Teri Dankovich developed the Drinkable Book to provide easy water filtration options to those in need. One page from the perforated book can filter 100 liters of water. One book can secure a person’s drinking water needs for up to four years. The pages are made up of cellulose and silver nanoparticles that can filter out “99.99% of the bacteria found in cholera, E. coli and typhoid.”

Access to Clean Water

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for universal water access, showing the broader impacts of lacking water access during times of crisis. Since poverty and water access are linked, innovations that increase access to clean water contribute to reducing global poverty.

– Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Majik WaterData from 2017 indicates that 884 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and more than two billion people (25% of the world population) lack access to adequate sanitation. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic makes access to water and sanitation even more urgent in order to curb the spread of the virus. Inaccessibility of water is a major contributing factor to global poverty. In developing countries especially, people have to travel long distances to access water, a burden often falling on women. In Kenya, only 58% of people have access to clean drinking water and only 30% have access to basic sanitation. Majik Water provides an innovative solution to ensure access to clean drinking water in Kenya.

What is Majik Water?

Majik Water was founded by Beth Koigi, a Kenyan entrepreneur who was a victim of water scarcity while at university. After this experience, she sought to create a device that would reduce water scarcity in Kenya and beyond. The Majik Water team consists of three inspiring females: Koigi, Anastasia Kaschenko and Clare Sewell. A complex issue such as water access requires a range of methods to solve. While for many, the solution to a lack of clean drinking water is to develop and install water filters, Kenya is prone to periods of drought, meaning there may be no reliable source of water for months on end. Thus, typical water filters are ineffective as there is often no water to filter.

Majik Water seeks to solve this issue by producing filters that are capable of harvesting drinking water from the air. The air contains six times more water than all the rivers of the world combined. Koigi realized that by condensing the water, she could ensure that even people living in the most drought-prone areas could have access to clean drinking water. The Majik Water devices are made with Kenyans and their specific needs in mind, taking advantage of Kenya’s climate and high levels of humidity in many areas. However, the device also works in areas with as little as 35% humidity, making it a more versatile resource. The solar technology involved makes the system more cost-effective.

How Majik Water Systems Work

The devices are deceptively simple, using a sponge-like material that attracts water molecules to gather water in the air.  When heated, the spongy material releases the water vapor, which is then condensed to form water. The device is reusable, making it both sustainable and affordable. Water drawn from the air is often cleaner and more sustainable than groundwater, which is finite and often contaminated with minerals such as arsenic, fluoride and lead. These minerals can cause serious health problems if the water is not filtered properly.

The Potential of Majik Water

While the device is still in the testing and development phases, it has already gained the attention and support of many. The Majik Water team won the EDF Pulse Awards Africa prize. Even in its earliest stages, Majik Water has already proven effective in increasing access to clean drinking water in Kenya. At the Ark Children’s Home in Thika, Kenya, Majik Water’s filters are able to provide 50 liters of drinking water a day, straight from the atmosphere.

The goal of the project is to increase water access in Kenya and stop the potentially devastating effects of anticipated increased water shortages in the next decade. Koigi hopes to be able to produce clean water for just one cent per liter, which may be achieved by reducing the cost of the solar technology that the devices rely on. Majik Water has the potential to improve health outcomes and poverty rates in many parts of the country by ensuring reliable water access for all.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Hungarian Water Pollution CrisisHungary, a landlocked country in Central Europe, ranks among the highest poverty rates in Europe. Nearly 33% of Hungary’s 10 million inhabitants are at risk of complete poverty if they forgo just three months of income. Hungarians with lower income disproportionally face many struggles, including obtaining affordable water. The Hungarian water pollution crisis affects everyone within the country, especially those in poverty, but water sanitation has thankfully seen improvements in recent years. However, there is still a dire need to increase efforts in order to achieve clean water for all.

The Danube River

Because of its landlocked status, Hungary’s primary source of water comes from the Danube River. This groundwater provides water for 90% of the Hungarian population. Additionally, this river basin covers nearly 10% of Europe and extends to 19 countries, providing 80 million people with water. Its water is used for drinking, energy, production, agriculture and transport. Those near Danube River rely heavily on it as a vital resource, but it’s currently not safe to do so. The river poses a threat to those whose utilize it due to the large presence of pollutants.

The river is contaminated with a variety of harmful substances: organic pollution, nutrient pollution, hazardous substance pollution and microbial pollution. The main factor causing this pollution in untreated wastewater. Corporations often have inadequates processes and facilities to properly treat water before releasing into the river basin. The untreated water then flows into villages and smaller cities that typically don’t have the means to purify the water to a safe level. These dangerous conditions make the water unsuitable for consumption, but Hungarians largely have no other options for obtaining water. Aid is needed to bring clean and drinkable water to all Hungarians, especially to those in poverty and in rural areas.

GEOInsight’s Technology for Water Pollution

The Hungarian start-up GEOInsight works to analyze data in a useful and digestible way. Its mission is to find data showcasing areas with heavily polluted water and use absorbents to treat those areas. These absorbents are ecological machines that measure the amount of waste and remove the micropollutants. GEOInsight focuses its efforts on natural adsorbents in water as a way to fight against water pollution.

Hungary’s government as well as the industries dispelling the wastewater can utilize GEOInsight to combat the water pollution in Hungary. GEOInsight can aid these organizations in understanding the data behind the polluted water. GEOInsight can also work with the organizations to help figure out what question needs to be asked in order to solve this water crisis. In addition, GEOInsight can help to create solutions for the problem. To specifically combat the Hungarian water pollution crisis, GEOInsight began developing technologies to detect micropollutants. The organization’s technologies more accurately remove pesticides better than conventional wastewater treatments.

Earlier this year, the start-up partnered with the water waste management company in Hungary, Hungary’s Department of Aquaculture and UTB Envirotec. GEOInsight, through its mission and partnerships, aims to solve the Hungarian water pollution crisis that increases the dangers of thousands of Hungarians on the brink of total poverty.

Hungary’s Partnerships For Progress

Hungary has been striving to clean its water system in a multifaceted approach. Since 2009, Hungary has funded research that seeks solutions to decontaminating the Danube River. It has even looked beyond its borders to try to fix the Hungarian water pollution crisis. Hungary partners with Slovakia to coordinate water quality, Romania to coordinate environmental risks and with the Czech Republic to coordinate energy priority. These intergovernmental measures are vital in the fight for water safety as are the local companies. With continued focus, advocacy and policies directed toward clean water and water accessibility for all, the Hungarian water crisis can finally be put to an end.

Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

Drought In TaiwanThe country of Taiwan, the world’s largest producer of computer chips, also known as semiconductors, is experiencing a massive drought. Decreased water supply has led to the government’s rationing of water, resulting in greater water prioritization for chip-producing companies than for struggling farmers in the region. The effects of the drought in Taiwan have gained the attention of many Instagram influencers who have posted information about it in order to spread awareness.

Drought in Taiwan

The most recent drought in Taiwan is the result of a dry spell that has lasted 18 months. Under normal circumstances, Taiwan is considered subtropical as the area usually receives plenty of rain throughout the year and typhoons are typical for the region. In the summer of 2020, however, Taiwan did not experience any typhoons and rainfall rates decreased significantly.

In the Baoshan Second Reservoir found in Hsinchu County, water levels dropped by 96.2% from March 12, 2019, to March 12, 2021. The state of the reservoir and other central water storage facilities in Taiwan prove just how serious the drought has become. A study conducted by the Research Center for Environmental Changes predicts a 50% chance of a 20% water inadequacy in the future, specifically in the Banxin and Taoyuan regions.

Drought and the Semiconductor Industry

As Taiwan is the world’s largest producer of semiconductor chips, companies rely heavily on the water supply to continue running since the chips require copious amounts of water to be cleaned and manufactured. Due to water shortages, the Taiwanese Government decided to stop irrigating thousands of hectares of crops and instead grant more water to the semiconductor chip industry. The government is compensating farmers, but farmers still risk losing clientele and damaging their brand reputation. Furthermore, young farmers who were encouraged to go into agriculture feel as though they have wasted investments in land and equipment.

The worldwide demand for the chips has caused companies in the United States, the U.K. and Australia to raise prices on cars containing microchips as the need for these devices is greater than ever. As the demand for chips continues to grow, Taiwan’s farmers must face the socioeconomic impacts of losing countless crops.

Solutions

The importance of the computer chip industry to Taiwan’s economy is immense. Therefore, the government is putting a lot of effort into trying to quickly resolve the water crisis. The government has prioritized constructing wells for water and using military planes to spread cloud-seeding chemicals that have the potential to produce rain.

The government had promptly tackled prior issues with water, including leaky pipes, which caused 14% of water loss in the past. The leakage rate is now down 20% from the previous decade. The government has also started creating more water desalination plants, which process significant amounts of water. The plants may not be enough to keep up with the needs of semiconductor manufacturers, however. Chip manufacturers are also attempting to save themselves.  A large semiconductor producer known as TSMC is recycling 86% of the water it uses in order to conserve water.

There is no doubt that water allocation during droughts in Taiwan must be improved, but with government authorities, struggling farmers and social media influencers coming together to discuss the issue, there is hope that a long-term solution may be on the horizon.

Susan Morales
Photo: Flickr