"The water sector and win-win opportunities therein"
By Yariv Cohen, Angaza Partner. Published on The New Times
Although some readers might find it hard to believe, the most basic element of our lives is not money! At the very core of all life on earth is a much more fundamental factor, which exists (almost) everywhere and affects (almost) all areas of life: water.
Covering about 71 per cent of the Earth's surface, and constituting 60 per cent of the human body, water is the enabling factor of every life form of life, massively impacting economies, industries, education, and more.
But despite its tremendous, well-known importance, hundreds of millions of people are still lacking access to clean water. If we really want to disrupt reality in Sub-Saharan Africa, water access must be on the top section of the “to-do” list. Fortunately, advanced technological developments now allow for an actual impact on the sector.
Affecting health, education, agriculture - and gender equality
More than 700 million people worldwide have no access to clean, safe drinking water, and 300 million of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa. The lack of access causes the local population to rely exclusively on stagnant water which, in many cases, contains infections and bacteria, and leads to difficulty in maintaining hygiene. Over 80 per cent of diseases in developing countries are estimated to be caused by the lack of access to clean water.
According to a 2016 study, half of the hospitalized patients worldwide were hospitalized for a water-related illness, and 20 per cent of deaths under the age of 5 could have been prevented by access to clean, safe water.
Although being severe, the lack of access has more widespread implications than the healthcare system. The field of agriculture, for example, is particularly affected, with only 5 per cent of Africa's agricultural land being properly irrigated, while most farmers rely on rainwater or stagnant water sources.
In the absence of regular irrigation, yield efficiency is significantly reduced, and the amount of available food is diminished accordingly.
If current effects are not enough, long-term effects are found in various sectors. In the education sphere, 443 million school days are lost every year due to water-related illnesses.
In about two-thirds of homes with no access to water, water supply is the sole responsibility of women and girls, preventing the gender equality battle from being won. According to the UN, over 40 billion hours are spent each year in sub-Saharan Africa collecting and transporting water; just imagine all the great accomplishments to be achieved in such a tremendous amount of time.
Creating water out of thin air
After thousands of years of relying on rain and stagnant water sources, recent times brought unprecedented technological advances, and water-tech has become one of the hottest sectors. Technology companies are creating solutions and developments that can revolutionize the lives of millions everywhere, and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Generally speaking, the sector can be divided into three main verticals.
Conveyance. One of the major challenges is the transport of water from an existing source (lake or river, for example) to other locations. Today, millions of women and girls are required to walk for hours every day, carrying water with jars and containers, while farmers use manual, non-scalable irrigation solutions. Different companies (such as Ignite Power) provide advanced solar-based solutions that allow the water to be pumped and transported to the desired location, tens, or even hundreds of meters away. In rural areas with no available infrastructure, these systems can help millions.
Purifying. Water transport may alleviate the difficulty of supplying water to homes and villages, but the health hazards inherent in stagnant water remain. Therefore, many companies offer various solutions for water purification, eliminating life-threatening hazards. This can be done by filtering or by adding dedicated chemicals, ensuring safe and clean drinking water.
"Production". The third field is perhaps the most surprising one. Unlike the first two that rely on available and visible water sources, various companies are now providing advanced technology that utilizes an invisible water source: humidity. This technology turns the same moisture into clean, safe drinking water, providing a solution for the most remote communities.
These technologies (and many more) are already available today, and can create a huge impact on nations and hundreds of millions of people. To make this happen, there is a substantial need for cooperation between the private and public sectors. Private companies, especially in the field of off-grid solar, must utilize the infrastructure they have created over the years and work to provide these new technologies to the most remote communities.
But that won’t be enough: governments can support the field, and invest in national water programs. According to the World Health Organization, every dollar spent on water and sanitation in developing countries will result in the economic growth of up to $34.
Investing in available technology solutions will not only have a huge impact on the lives of people, but will accelerate economic development in the coming years. It is our responsibility to develop it today, and to lead the way to inclusiveness and impact in the future.