A Zimbabwean engineer, Mr. Allen Chafa, has been shortlisted for the 2023 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (APEI), slated for July 6 next year in Accra, Ghana.
Mr. Chafa, who developed a real-time water quality monitoring and control system designed to address poor water quality, which results in the spread of water-borne diseases, is among 15 Africans who were shortlisted for the competition.
Four finalists will be chosen to pitch their innovations and business plans to the Africa Prize judges at the event. Launched in 2014, the APEI is awarded annually by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) to ambitious African innovators creating local and scalable solutions to Pan-African and international challenges.
In a statement, RAE said innovators short-listed for the Africa Prize will benefit from a unique package of support, including business incubation, mentoring, fundraising, and communications.
The academy said the package included access to the academy’s global network of high-profile and highly experienced engineers and business experts in the United Kingdom and Africa.
“The winner will receive £25 000 and three runners up will win £10 000 each, and an additional “One-to-Watch” award of £5 000 will be given to the most promising entrepreneur from the remaining short-list,” said the Academy.
“This year’s short-listed entrepreneurs join the academy’s 134-strong Africa Prize alumni network, which includes innovators who have achieved significant commercial success and social impact across the continent following their participation in the prize, such as 2022 winner Norah Magero, and her portable solar-powered fridge solution for transporting medicines.
“Africa Prize alumni are projected to have an impact on more than three million people in the next five years, and have already created 3 585 jobs including 1 766 for women and 211 for persons with disabilities and raised more the US$ 14 million in grants and equity funding, directly contributing to 12 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The programme is currently seeking additional partners and funders to help to positively impact millions more.”
The innovations short-listed in 2023 tackle challenges central to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, good health and well-being, and clean energy, good health and well-being, and quality education. Mr Chafa created the Smart Water Tech in response to a 43 percent increase in cholera cases in Zimbabwe between 2018 and 2020 and 3,5 million fatalities reported annually in Africa due to unsafe drinking water.
Smart Water Tech applies sensors to municipal water treatment at three stages.
In the first stage, water is tested before and during pretreatment flocculation, the process where a chemical coagulant is added to the water to separate specific particles and determine what additives are required.
The water is tested again at filtration stage, and a final time before the water is loaded into tanks for delivery to the community.
Zimbabwe’s municipal water is currently only tested during pretreatment using manual methods that involve taking water samples to the laboratory for analytical testing. Water is often contaminated in-transit to its final destination. The six sensors in Chafa’s innovation monitor dissolved oxygen, pH levels, temperature, turbidity, hardness, and total dissolved solids. The resulting data determines whether an intervention is required.
The Smart Water Tech’s software sends an SMS notification about deviation in water quality from standards set by the World Health Organisation, enabling a rapid intervention.
An autonomous control measure is carried out by the use of multi-media filters and automated chemical dosing units. The web-based monitoring of water quality avoids the need for expensive and time-consuming laboratory tests. Chafa and his team have installed a lab-sized prototype unit at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo and replicated the concept at three homesteads.
He said he hopes to develop a biosensor to specifically identify types of bacteria in the water to prevent the need for excessive amounts of chlorine.
“There is a real issue with water service delivery, and contaminated water is still being delivered to consumers,” said Chafa. “Our product saves time, money, and water.” But most importantly, we are aiming to save lives.
“This is a public health issue hindering economic growth, and it is essential for people’s human rights that they know their drinking water is 100 percent safe.”