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Innovative Ways to Collect Water from Air

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

World water resources are being depleted quickly as populations grow, urbanize and demand better living standards. Many scientists believe we are reaching peak water – the point at which fresh water is consumed faster than it is replenished.

According to Ensia (ensia.com), a magazine showcasing environmental solutions in action, 70 per cent of the earth’s fresh water reserves are locked up in snow or ice, and are expensive to tap and bring to the world’s water-stressed places. Of the remainder, most is in groundwater, soil moisture, swamps or permafrost, while just 0.3 per cent is easy to access in freshwater lakes and rivers.

By far the biggest user of water in the world – accounting for 69 per cent of the total – is farm irrigation. That’s a serious concern when considering the world will need to grow more food to feed an increasing population. Just 1 per cent of water is used for livestock, while 15 per cent is used for electricity generation and 7 per cent for manufacturing. More water is currently being pumped from underground resources than is being replaced from underground aquifers.

The average person needs to consume 0.6 to 1.3 gallons (2.72 liters to 6 liters) of water per day to survive in a moderate climate. For drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation, an individual needs 13 gallons (59 liters) a day (Ensia).

In many places, obtaining water requires a long trek to a well or stream. But non-desert climates have water as a resource readily available all around – trapped in the air. The clue to this resource’s existence is in the air’s humidity levels, the most visible sign of which is the dew that is found covering the grass and leaves every morning when people wake up. The trick is to extract that water from the air and create a steady supply of this essential resource.

Italian architect and designer Arturo Vittori (http://www.vittori-lab.com/team/arturo-vittori), a lecturer on aerospace architecture, technology transfer and sustainability, believes he has an answer.

Wired magazine (http://www.wired.com/2014/03/warka-water-africa/) reported that Vittori was inspired by a trip to Ethiopia, where he observed the daily struggle to get water. Access to water in northeastern Ethiopia often requires a long walk, which reduces the amount of time left in the day to do other things. Parents often take along their children, meaning the children cannot go to school. The time consumed by gathering water leaves people poorer and unable to dedicate more of their day to income-earning activities.

And there is no guarantee the water is safe to drink or free of chemical contaminants. This situation left Vittori pondering ways of coming up with an inexpensive solution that would eliminate the daily hassle of finding water and guarantee its quality.

The answer was a WarkaWater Tower (http://www.architectureandvision.com/projects/chronological/84-projects/art/492-073-warkawater-2012?showall=&start=1). The bamboo structure – which looks like an upended, latticework funnel – captures the dew and moisture in the air and collects it in a basket at the bottom.

The water collector is inspired by the Warka tree, or Ficus vasta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus_vasta). Native to Ethiopia, it is known for providing shade and as a rendezvous point for traditional gatherings.

A WarkaWater Tower stands 8 meters in height and is made from either bamboo or reeds. Inside, a mesh traps humidity from the air and the water drips down into a basket. One tower can gather around 94 liters of water a day. The water is right there in the community and not kilometers away, meaning time and energy saved for income-generating tasks.

A WarkaWater Tower is constructed in sections, which are assembled and then stacked on top of each other. The construction does not need special scaffolding or special machinery. Once the tower is in place, it can also be used as a solar-power generator.

The tower is still a prototype and Vittori plans to build two towers for a launch in 2015.

In Peru, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune (http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=700400&CategoryId=14095), another innovative solution to the water crisis has been developed by students at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) (http://www.utec.edu.pe/Utec.aspx). The students have developed a highway advertising billboard that can draw drinking water out of the air. Inspired by a campaign called “Ingenuity in Action”, the students teamed up with a local advertising agency to design the billboard. It is capable of extracting water from the air and processing it through a filtration system as it flows down to a series of taps at the bottom.

The water-making billboard is at the 89.5 kilometer distance marker of the Pan-American Highway and has five electric-powered tanks that can hold a total of 96 liters of drinkable water. It is capable of providing enough water for hundreds of families. A true sign of our times!

Resources

1) How to Build a Rainwater Collection System. Website: http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Rainwater-Collection-System

2) The geopolitical difficulties of access to water covered in The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: A True Story about the Aral Sea Catastrophe by Robert Ferguson. Website: amazon.com

3) “Earth may have underground ‘ocean’ three times that on surface” from The Guardian. Website: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jun/13/earth-may-have-underground-ocean-three-times-that-on-surface

An article on the impact of the water crisis on food supplies. Website: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/09/enjoy-your-coffee-you-may-soon-not-be-able-to-afford-it

5) How to Make Water in the Desert. Website: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Water-in-the-Desert


Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=waeXBgAAQBAJ&dq=Development+Challenges+February+2008&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsfebruary2008issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Carbon Credits Can Benefit African Farmers Thanks to New System

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The global carbon credit trading schemes emanating from the Kyoto Protocol are now creating a multi-billion dollar market – the European carbon market was worth €14.6 billion in 2006 – and represents one of the fastest growing business opportunities in the world. Being green has finally come of age. Yet all the benefits of this are largely bypassing Africa despite more than 70 percent of the continent’s inhabitants earning a living off the land.

The World Agroforestry Centre – whose mission is to advance the science and practice of agroforestry to transform the lives and landscapes of the rural poor in developing countries – in partnership with Michigan State University has developed a method using satellite imagery and infrared sensing that measures carbon storage in African farmland. They have completed a pilot programme in western Kenya and are ready to encourage poor farmers to plant trees as soon as the European Union allows carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol to be awarded for this kind of scheme. Further pilot projects will be rolled out in 2007 in partnership with CARE International and the WWF.

But European Union policies on carbon credits are holding back this significant opportunity to enhance African livelihoods. Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is at present not willing to recognize the new method of verifying carbon storage in farmland. The ETS is the largest multi-country, multi-sector greenhouse gas emission trading scheme in the world. The issue of carbon storage, or carbon “sinks” as they are known, is very controversial in the world of Kyoto agreement implementation. Non-government organizations that advocate for forests and indigenous people have worked hard to exclude the use of forestry credits to offset fossil fuel burning, arguing that forestry offsets to date have been for big monoculture plantations of fast-growing eucalyptus or pine trees. It is claimed they are net carbon emitters over their lifetimes and also cause additional environmental and social problems.

But the World Agroforestry Centre’s approach is very different from a monoculture plantation. Their scheme is to help rural Africans to integrate more trees into their agricultural production systems, with benefits besides storing carbon. They argue that the right kinds of trees can increase the productivity and resilience of the land. Trees provide food, fuel, fertilizer, and medicine – medicinal trees are the main source of medication for 80 percent of Africa’s population.

Louis Verchon, the lead scientist for climate change at the World Agroforestry Centre, believes that if the EU would put in place a new scheme to credit farmers who capture carbon in their land, “millions of dollars in carbon credits could begin flowing to the world’s rural poor.” At present, Verchon says two-thirds of the carbon credit business is being captured by Asian countries who are mostly offering industrial solutions. “Africa has something to offer on this – it can’t compete with the likes of South Korea on industrial solutions, but it has plenty of land.”

In order to make the scheme work, two things will need to be improved: Africa’s institutional weakness and the paucity of qualified carbon credit verifiers. A network of verifiers would be required to inspect farm sites and make the calculations required to allocate carbon credits to poor farmers. At present, there are no qualified African-born verifiers in Africa according to Verchon.

The WAC are working with WWF and CARE to build up NGO capacity and start demonstration projects to prove it can work – two pilot projects are already up and running in Kenya. They are also automating much of the process by building a web portal.

Verchon says the WAC “are in it for the long-haul and we will see this grow over the next ten years.”

Resources

  • More on emissions trading: Click here
  • Kenya’s Greenbelt Movement: Founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, it provides income and sustenance to millions of people in Kenya through the planting of trees.
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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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UNDP Travelling Seminar: Environment and Development | Mongolia 1998

As head of communications for UNDP/UN Mongolia, I organised and led press tours across the country for international journalists in 1997 and 1998.

Library catalogue description: https://www.e-varamu.ee/item/NG6OSO3DWRMB4NGGULKHVE434XN4KJ4R

A book published by UNDP chronicled the press tour in 1998. (UNDP Division of Public Affairs)
The media tour of Mongolia included the following journalists: Kathleen Lally (The Baltimore Sun), Florence Compain (Le Figaro), Suvendrini Kakuchi (Inter Press Service), Charu Shahane (BBC World Service), Lim Yun-Suk (Agency France Presse), Leslie Chang (The Asian Wall Street Journal).
An Interoffice Memorandum from Djibril Diallo, Director, Division of Public Affairs, UNDP, to Mr. Nay Htun, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
An interview with the BBC World Service while visiting gardens in the Gobi Desert, 1998. I led media tours of Mongolia while serving as the UN/UNDP Mongolia Communications Coordinator from 1997-1999.
The UNDP Mongolia Communications Office would reach out to journalists to help tell the story of Mongolia’s late 1990s transition to free markets and democracy.
UNDP Mongolia staff photo 1997. I served for two years as the UNDP Mongolia Head of Communications (1997-1999).

“Mongolia is not an easy country to live in and David [South] showed a keen ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. He was sensitive to the local habits and cultures and was highly respected by his Mongolian colleagues. … David’s journalism background served him well in his position as Director of the Communications Unit. … A major accomplishment … was the establishment of the UNDP web site. He had the artistic flare, solid writing talent and organizational skills that made this a success. … we greatly appreciated the talents and contributions of David South to the work of UNDP in Mongolia.” Douglas Gardner, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mongolia

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Solar Bottle Bulbs Light Up Dark Homes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Finding ways to generate low-cost or free light has captured the imagination of innovators across the global South. The desire for light is strong: Light gives an immediate boost to income-making opportunities and quality of life when the sun goes down or in dark homes with few windows.

More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank). Without a source of electricity, it is difficult to use conventional technology to switch the lights on.

While it is possible to run lights using batteries or diesel generators, these are expensive options that are not possible for many poor people. The more of a slim income that is spent on light, heat or cooking fuel, the less there is left for better-quality food, clothing, transport or education and skills development.

Low-cost light is great, but free light is even better – and one Brazilian solution is offering this.

Brazilian innovator and mechanic Alfredo Moser has taken the common plastic water bottle and created a low-cost lighting solution for dark spaces. Often makeshift homes lack decent lighting or a good design that lets the light in during the day. This means it may be a bright, sunny day outside, but inside the home or workplace, it is very dark and reading or working is difficult.

Moser came upon the idea during regular blackouts in his home city of Uberaba (http://www.uberaba.mg.gov.br/portal/principal) in southern Brazil during 2002. During the blackouts, only factories were able to get electricity, leaving the rest of the population in the dark.

The “Moser Light” involves taking plastic bottles, which are usually just thrown away or recycled, and filling them with water and bleach to draw on a basic physical phenomenon: the refraction of sunlight when it passes through a water-based medium.

It is a simple idea: Holes are drilled in the ceiling of a room and the bottles placed in the holes. The liquid-filled bottle amplifies the existing sunlight (or even moonlight) and projects it into the dark room. This turns the plastic bottle into a very bright lightbulb that does not require any electricity.

Moser uses a solution of two capfuls of bleach added to the water to prevent anything growing in the water such as algae because of the exposure to sunlight.

“The cleaner the bottle, the better,” he said.

Polyester resin is used to seal the hole around the plastic bottle and make it watertight from rain.

Moser claims his bottle innovation can produce between 40 and 60 watts of light.

Moser uses recycled plastic bottles, so the carbon footprint is minimal compared to the manufacture of one incandescent bulb, which takes 0.45 kilograms of CO2 (UN). Running a 50 Watt incandescent light bulb for 14 hours a day for a year, around the same light as produced by the bottle bulb, produces a carbon footprint of nearly 200 kilograms of CO2.

“There was one man who installed the lights and within a month he had saved enough to pay for the essential things for his child, who was about to be born. Can you imagine?” Moser told the BBC.

The plan is to try and get as many as a million homes fitted with the lighting system by the end of 2013.

In many poor areas, it is common to live in makeshift or rudimentary dwellings. These are often built to crude designs and, in order to keep costs down and boost security, will have few or no windows. These dwellings will consequently be very dark inside, even on the brightest days. This leaves people having to turn to a source of artificial light if they want to do something indoors like read or work. And this costs money. Be it electricity from a mains, or battery-powered lamps or gas-powered lanterns, the cost will eat into a person’s tight income. This is where Moser’s simple solution saves the day and saves pennies: it is free light once the bottle lamp system is installed.

Placing the bottle lights in the ceiling transforms the ceiling into something akin to the night sky, with many points of light shining down into the room like stars. It also means the occupant of the room does not just have to strain to see with the use of a single light but now has many lights illuminating the room from all angles.

“It’s a divine light,” Moser told the BBC World Service. “God gave the sun to everyone, and light is for everyone. Whoever wants it saves money. You can’t get an electric shock from it, and it doesn’t cost a penny.”

It has not been a road to riches for Moser. He has made some money installing the system in a local supermarket and nearby homes, and he has inspired a charity to install the lighting system and to train people to do the installation and make an income from it.

The MyShelter Foundation in the Philippines was inspired by Moser’s invention and has installed the system in some 140,000 homes there, the BBC reported.

“We want him to know that there are a great number of people who admire what he is doing,” MyShelter Executive Director Illac Angelo Diaz said of Moser.

Using bottle bulbs instead of electricity or generators means families can save US $6 per month, according to Diaz (CNN). The Philippines is reported to have the most expensive electricity in Asia and slum homes usually do not have electricity.

It is estimated 15 other countries also have homes using the Moser system. The MyShelter Foundation believes 1 million homes worldwide have used the Moser system as of 2013.

Liter of Light (http://aliteroflight.org), run by the MyShelter Foundation, offers instructions on how to install the lighting system on its website.

Resources

1) D-Lab: MIT: Development through Dialogue, Design and Dissemination: D-Lab is building a global network of innovators to design and disseminate technologies that meaningfully improve the lives of people living in poverty. The program’s mission is pursued through interdisciplinary courses, technology development, and community initiatives, all of which emphasize experiential learning, real-world projects, community-led development, and scalability. Website: http://d-lab.mit.edu/

2) d.light Solar: d.light is a for-profit social enterprise whose purpose is to create new freedoms for customers without access to reliable power so they can enjoy a brighter future. d.light design manufacture and distribute solar light and power products throughout the developing world. Website: http://www.dlightdesign.com/

3) Liter of Light:  It brings the eco-friendly bottle light to communities living without electricity. Website: http://aliteroflight.org

4) Solar Sister: Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity.  They combine the breakthrough potential of solar technology with a deliberately woman-centered direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to even the most remote communities in rural Africa. Website: http://www.solarsister.org/

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022