Article published in Jeune Afrique Magazine, 01/2023
Access to water is still a distant dream for many. One third of Africans face water scarcity and around 400 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to drinking water, adding an unnecessary challenge to their daily lives. Understanding local factors is crucial for improving the management of Africa’s water resources and services and bolstering climate resilience.
With decades of experience working in Africa, Mitrelli’s team knows that each country, each province and each village has different precipitation and water sources. Owini, the water and sanitation subsidiary of Mitrelli, brings cutting-edge technology and tailor-made solutions to the agricultural, municipal (urban and rural), and industrial sectors.
Owini places a strong emphasis on tailoring each of its projects to the demands of the community, sharing knowledge to empower the local workforce, and on working to ensure the project’s longevity to truly make a difference in people’s lives.
“Water for All”
As part of the “Water for All” project, with its first phase launched in 2013, Owini designed and implemented sustainable solutions to provide water to remote areas. These now provide some 430,000 people with access to clean high quality water, improving their health and impacting the communities. Women and children, who had to fetch water, have now time for economic activities and going to school; and hundreds of local staff were trained to operate the system, ensuring long-term sustainability and employment opportunities for the local population.
Providing water to some areas can be particularly challenging but so crucial. Cunene, the southern province of Angola, was hit by a prolonged drought, affecting some 80% of the local population, including their domestic animals, which died in their multitudes. The Angolan government approached international companies to provide an urgent response to the water crisis in the area.
Owini’s engineers performed in depth analysis of the region and carried out field surveys to understand what is the best set of solutions to provide potable water to the area.
“We realized there were three main problems. First, there was no potable water in the area. Second, second, the underground water was totally salty and third, there were no sufficient energy resources available in the local power grid to accommodate water systems power needs, and because of the village’s remoteness the fuel supply for generators was extremely limited,” said Zafrir Vaknin, Owini’sactive general manager.
Owini’s team designed an innovative water desalination system based entirely on solar energy, which can conserve the energy produced during the day and allow water pumping and supply around the clock. Due to the distance of the villages from populated areas and to mitigate the risk of protracted malfunction, they added a water storage facility to guarantee water supply for a few days until a technical team arrives to fix the problems.
Drinking water now flows to the villages for the benefit of the residents and their livestock.
“This project had a strong impact on the life” Zafrir Vaknin said. “Women and children had to walk many miles each day to fetch water from the river. Children now have time to go to school and women can have economic activities that increase household revenue”.
Other places in Angola want to replicate it, and Mitrelli is working on similar projects in other countries that need innovative solutions to their water and energy needs as well.”
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The project includes a reverse osmosis water desalination process, in which salts are separated from water (brackish groundwater in this case) by means of a membrane to produce drinking water; combined with solar energy production for operating the process and deep cycle batteries to store energy for use during the night.
Water for Food
90% of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural population depends on agriculture as their primary source of income and more than 95% of the region’s farming is reliant on rainfall. This impacts hundreds of villages and millions of people’s lives.
Owini works together with Agricultiva, also part of Mitrelli’s infrastructure division, to develop large agriculture projects that increase countries’ food security, empower local farmers, create jobs, and improve the population’s wellbeing. Owini built an earth dam for the Agropole project in Samba Caju, Angola, enabling water to be supplied to the farm even during drought season, while also providing water to the surrounding villages. By establishing large modern soybean and corn production farms irrigated by their very own dam and a modern center-pivot irrigation system, Owini and Agricultiva have built one of the most advanced farms in the country with impressive results of doubling the annual yield of the farm.
The technology, methodologies and innovative model used in the Samba Caju can be easily replicated and implemented in future Agropole projects in other countries.