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Posted: Nov 29, 2013
Biotechnology improves Africa's water supply
(Nanowerk News) The use of biotechnology to treat polluted water resources can play a vital role in increasing the amount of available clean water in developing countries. An EU-funded initiative is investigating how it can be applied in Africa to promote environmental sustainability and a host of other benefits.
The 'Biotechnology for Africa's sustainable water supply' (WATERBIOTECH) project built on the success of previous initiatives conducted under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The initiative provided know-how and best practices to target countries for the sustainable management of polluted water resources using green plants and microorganisms to detoxify contaminated water, soils, sediments and sludge.
Project partners collated and analysed relevant information required for waste management planning and decision making. The feasibility of low-cost biotechnological practices were assessed and the most practical solutions chosen and adapted to specific regions. In addition, relevant stakeholders were trained to implement the adapted water treatment biotechnologies, and guidelines for selecting appropriate technologies were drawn up.
Dissemination activities included a project website in Arabic, English and French. An article was prepared regarding the barriers to implementation of water biotechnologies. A second article on existing water treatment practices in Africa was submitted to the Journal of Water Science and Technology for peer review and publication.
WATERBIOTECH is expected to help reduce the pressure on freshwater resources by focusing on the safe recycling of wastewater. This can then be used to replace drinking water in applications that do not require potable water, such as industry, irrigation, toilet flushing and the washing of clothes.
Wastewater can also be used in agriculture as a source of plant nutrients, reducing the need for chemical fertilisers, while treated wastewater can be redirected from agriculture for use in aquaculture. Water treatment biotechnologies and other activities such as agriculture and aquaculture will provide increased job opportunities for local people.
Innovative biotechnologies will help treat specific pollutants such as pathogens, heavy metals and xenobiotics, and reduce contamination to the aquatic environment through the use of reed beds. Remediation of wastewater will also improve human health by reducing waterborne diseases such as cholera. Improved water management has also been shown to have a positive influence on public hygiene through increased hand washing and the cleaning of cooking utensils.
Establishment of a suitable legal framework and incentives for implementing water biotechnologies will help to support local authorities and policymakers. Furthermore, capacity building through stakeholder training will serve to facilitate knowledge transfer and strengthen cooperation between African and European scientific partners.
The success of WATERBIOTECH can be seen from the resulting benefits to farmers, providers of sewage treatment services, local authorities, decision makers and communities living in water-stressed areas.