Could water filters made from macadamia nut shells be the solution to Cape Town’s water crisis?

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It is no secret that droughts have become more commonplace in South Africa in recent years.

In the past two decades since 1990, 12 of those years were defined as drier years compared to only seven years in the previous 20 years.

The last three years have seen the country experience drier conditions, between 2014 to 2016. In some regions, such as the Western Cape, the country’s second largest province in terms of economic contribution, the drought continued into 2017.

Weather analysts, through their research are attributing these droughts to climate change and the effect of human behaviour on the planet’s temperature.

As a result, over the past two years the Western Cape was forced to set strict water restrictions , including curbs on irrigation as dam levels dropped to below 20%. This has had a direct impact on agriculture and food production, as well as ripple effects across the country.

So, it is no surprise that many creative minds have since gathered to come up with innovative ways so tackle the water crises, and one of these brilliant minds is Murendeni Mafuma, an entrepreneur who uses macadamia nut shells to purify water and hopes that his innovation will mean safe drinking water for thousands of South Africans.

The founder of Kusini Water is now using his technology to build a solar-powered desalination plant in Cape Town to provide some relief to the drought-stricken city. The plant is set to be operational by August, and for every litre of clean water that is produced, 20 litres will be donated to a community in Khayelitsha.

Mafumo’s inspiration to start Kusini stems from his upbringing in rural Limpopo, where he watched young women fill big buckets with river water and lug them back to their homes to use for drinking, cooking and cleaning. These chores as well as the lack of proper sanitation meant girls missed several school days each month; and many also suffered from water-borne diseases.

According to the World Health Organisation, almost eight percent of deaths in Africa are caused by diarrhoea – often caused by contact with water contaminated by sewage, animal faeces or other waste.

South Africa is the largest macadamia but producer in the world, and Mafumo uses locally-sourced shells to make an activated carbon filter with a nanofiber membrane.

The filters can be made in different sizes to be used on most water sources. They work on a low-pressure system which can be gravity-fed or solar-powered, eliminating the need for electricity and making them ideal for providing safe drinking water in rural and informal settlements.

Kusini was launched in an Emalahleni community affected by water polluted by mining. It is also saving the Gauteng government R1.2 million a year by providing clean water to rural schools that don’t have piped water.

Despite Mafumo’s success, he recently told delegates at the SEED South Africa Symposium in Pretoria that financing and business development support is “a lifeline” that every entrepreneur needs to succeed.

Mafumo received business support from the Climate Innovation Centre of South Africa (CICSA) and is building the desalination plant in partnership with Red Bull.

“Without the assistance from CICSA and Red Bull, we would be nowhere,” he said.

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