Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fresh Water from the Indian Ocean

[Dar es Salaam, Tanzania]
THEY say "the best things in life are free." Perhaps. Now, when it comes to fresh water, that's not the case in most places around the world - especially here in Africa. In all honesty, growing up in Canada has sort of spoiled me to the point where we, as Canadians, never had to worry about water. Why? Because Mother Nature was kind enough to bless us with more fresh water than any other country on the planet. The 5 great lakes (Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Huron, Superior) along with numerous other large bodies of water (Great Bear Lake, Great Slave Lake, Georgian Bay, James Bay, Lake Athabasca, etc.) scattered throughout the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast provides us with, virtually, unlimited supplies. And with a population of only 30 million people inhabiting the 2nd largest country in the world, this means that water scarcity should never ever enter the Canadian vocabulary. :-)

Try to picture this. Lake Superior (see above) is the world's largest freshwater lake covering a staggering area of 31,720 miles (82,103 sq kilometers) with its deepest point at 1,335 feet. That's massive.

Seeing is believing
When I touched down in Africa (Nairobi) for the first time near the end of 2005, a new reality began to sink in. On numerous occasions, whenever I woke up, the watchman had to pump water so that I can proceed to take a shower. And if the electric company couldn't supply enough power on that particular day, we were in big doo doo because the pumps need electricty. This was a totally new experience for me, and I realized then and there just how lucky Canadians are -- to the point that we take a lot of
things (electricity, universal health care, free K-12 education) for granted. I don't any more.

Water scarcity everywhere
Everyday in the news, I'm always reminded of how delicate the water situation is throughout Africa. In particular, this week is Maji Week (maji = water in Swahili) in these parts, and there's just no way to escape the "down pour" of negative news regarding maji (er water). It's agonizing to think that, at any moment, bad scenarios can result from the lack of this precious resource. I read some where the other day that Dar es Salaam (Haven of Peace) is not able to supply all the water that it's citizens demand. This is so sad because I absolutely looove this city. Knowing this, I decided to cruise the Internet to see what's new in the world of high technology that could end Dar's water scarcity once and for all.

Sea of hope
Without a doubt, a city like Dar would be wise to look at the Indian Ocean for its water supply. After all, it's right there, and so convenient to access. The only problem is the damn
salt. Now what if there was a large scale method of extracting fresh water from the ocean - and cheaply? Well, I was watching the idiot box (um, TV) this morning and saw an excellent story (courtesy of SABC) about a South African company called GrahamTek that's making waves (pun intended). It appears that they've invented (or improved) a new cheap method (process?) to take the salt out of the sea water that's far more efficient and effective than desalination plants of yester year. The secret is reverse osmosis desalination and it's a technology that you'll be hearing a lot about - hopefully soon.

The salt on desalination
In a nutshell, desalination is a complex process of removing salt from sea water.
I remember reading a long time ago about how Saudi Arabia was one of the world's biggest users of desalination plants. But I also heard they were expensive (about $400 million) to build and required a lot of power to operate. Well, Saudi Arabia has cheap energy thanks to its oil jackpot, but I don't think the old desalination plants they were using would work in Dar. Too damn costly. Enter GrahamTek Systems with some fresh, innovative thinking to the entire field of desalination.

GrahamTek to the rescue
After seeing that short SABC news article about GrahamTek Systems (runs Ocean Mineral Water), I was determined to find out more information about the company.

Ocean Mineral Water is run by local group Grahamtek Systems, which has been working in the field since 1994. They believe they are years ahead of other companies elsewhere in the world. Jean Vos of Ocean Mineral Water said: "The basic point is that we can give Cape Town water and that is a fact. "The company recently erected a plant in the Maldives that produces half a million litres a day and was erected in a single day at a cost of a mere R1.5 million.

In the past the prohibitive energy costs of desalination have prevented widespread use of the technology. However, the local scientists say they have improved technology and are now able to supply desalinated water at a cost of R4,80/1 000 litres, which is substantially cheaper than the water provided by most municipalities. "Seawater is the healthiest water on the planet as it has all the minerals that you need, reverse osmosis simply removes what is bad for you and retains the good part. This is the best water for any living being to consume and even for agriculture," said Martin Lyons of Ocean Mineral Water. {source}

Wow, that is simply amazing news. In short, I think GrahamTek has no where else to go but up. Heck, where can I buy some shares? :-) But honestly, I think Dar es Salaam should seriously look into using this technology to solve its water problems. I'll write more about this later.

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