Initiative aims to use nanotechnology to purify water


A five-year project focusing on the use of nanotechnology for addressing environmental challenges in Africa such as water contamination has received funding.

The project, which also aims to develop news systems capable of reducing the current cost of water purification methods, will be implemented through a collaboration involving Rhodes University, South Africa; University of Ottawa, Canada and United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) in Kenya.

‘The main aim of this initiative is to look at an alternative and hopefully better method of water purification.’

Edith Amuhaya, United States International University-Africa

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is funding the one million Canadian dollar (about US$800,000) project through the new South Africa–Canada Research Chairs Trilateral Partnership Initiative.

Edith Amuhaya, an assistant professor of organic chemistry at the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences’ Bachelor of Pharmacy programme at USIU-Africa, says that contaminated water and poor sanitation aid transmission of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and schistosomiasis, which contribute to mortality in children under five years.

‘The main aim of this initiative is to look at an alternative and hopefully better method of water purification. The advantage that [Nano tech] has is that it reduces likelihood of microbes developing antimicrobial resistance,’ Amuhaya, one of the scientists leading implementation of the project, said.

The IDRC announced the initiative last month (4 July).

Immediate beneficiaries, according to her, will be Undergraduate, Master’s and Doctoral students. ‘They will undergo training in … applications of nanotechnology. For the Kenyan students, they will get a chance to travel to South Africa and Canada to carry out part of their research work,’ Amuhaya explains.

She adds that the project could help students get the much needed hands-on training that is not readily available locally. The outputs such as publications and patents from the project could increase Africa’s contributions to nanotechnology.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2015 nearly half of 663 million people globally who did not have clean water lived in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Catherine Ngila, a deputy director at Morendat Institute of Oil and Gas, a Kenya-based training centre that aims to build capacity in East Africa’s oil and gas sector, applauds the project, noting that if nanotechnology is strengthened in Africa, it could improve manufacturing methods to reduce environmental pollution.

But Ngila cautions on affordability saying that nanotechnology is expensive and will require researchers working together with policymakers to fund and create regulations that guide nanotechnology use on the continent for it to succeed.

She also calls for the establishment of equipped laboratories necessary for characterising nanoparticles as Africa currently largely lacks the capacity.

Written by Sam Otieno. This story was produced by SciDev.Net’s sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


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