Africa-Canada scheme funds nanotech to purify water

Little girl drinking clean water from a communal pump
Copyright: Panos

Speed read

  • Five-year project aims to tap nanotechnology for water and soil clean-up
  • It’s set to build capacity of university students for R&D, publications and patents
  • Expense of nanotech means regulation is needed to guide its use, expert says

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[NAIROBI] A five-year project focusing on the use of nanotechnology to address environmental pollution in Africa has received support under a funding scheme between Canada and South Africa.

The research project, which aims to develop systems capable of reducing the cost of water purification methods, will be implemented through a collaboration between Rhodes University in South Africa, the University of Ottawa in Canada, and the 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

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

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.

According to the WHO, in 2015 nearly half the 663 million people globally who did not have clean water lived in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Edith Amuhaya, an assistant professor of organic chemistry at USIU-Africa, who is also one of the scientists leading implementation of the project, tells SciDev.Net that the initiative aims to look at an alternative and hopefully better method of water purification. “The advantage that [nanotech] has is that it reduces likelihood of microbes developing antimicrobial resistance,” she points out.

According to Amuhaya, the immediate beneficiaries will be university students set to receive 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,” she says.

Amuhaya adds that the project could help students get much-needed hands-on training that is not readily available locally. Outputs such as publications and patents could also increase Africa’s contributions to the field of nanotechnology.

Catherine Ngila, 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 strengthening nanotechnology in Africa could improve manufacturing methods to reduce environmental pollution.

But Ngila cautions on affordability. Nanotechnology is expensive, she says, and to succeed, it will require researchers working together with policymakers to fund and create regulations that guide its use on the continent.

She also calls for the establishment of equipped laboratories necessary for characterising nanoparticles, as Africa currently largely lacks the capacity.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.