Mar 19, 2015

Zanzibar: Desalination: A Solution to Water Shortage?

A large part of Zanzibar is facing a fresh water shortage, because of the deterioration of water infrastructures and climate change. According to the Zanzibar Water Authority, 200 million litres of fresh water per day would be needed for the entire population. The Government is considering desalination as a potential solution to the issue. 

Below is an article published by allAfrica:


Many parts in Zanzibar have been facing a critical shortage of water, forcing many people, mainly women and children to go out looking for water, sometimes waking up very early in the morning.

The ongoing shortage of fresh water has been attributed to dilapidation of the water infrastructure including leaking pipes, and decrease of water from spring and other sources due to impact of climate change.

Also cutting down of trees at water source because of unplanned expansion of human settlement, is to blame for continuing shortage of water as people mount pressure on government to solve the water blues.

Authorities led by President Ali Mohamed Shein have been raising hope to people in the Islands that the current water problems will end in the near future because of the ongoing workable plans.

According to the Zanzibar Water Authority (ZAWA), Zanzibar needs production of more than 200 million litres of fresh water for its people, but only less than 50 per cent of the requirement is shared among the people.

Some of the initiatives being taken by the government to overcome shortage of water are to protect environment particularly at water sources, construct boreholes and water wells, minimize wastage of water by fixing consumption meters, and improve infrastructure.

Several development partners including China, Japan, and Ras al-Khaimah are supporting Zanzibar in solving water problems on the Islands.

The projects have helped increase the number of people who access water. But as Zanzibar joins other countries to mark the World Water Day next Sunday, seawater desalination is proving to be an alternative water supply to thousands of Zanzibar people without water, particularly residents living close to the sea.

World Water Day is marked annually on March 22, and this year's (2015) the theme is 'Water and Sustainable Development,' which provides an important opportunity to consolidate and build upon the previous World Water Days themes to highlight water's role in the sustainable development agenda.

According to scientists, Desalination (also called "desalinisation" and "desalting") is the process of removing dissolved salts from water, thus producing fresh water from seawater or brackish water. Desalting technologies can be used for many applications, but the most prevalent use is to produce potable water from saline water for domestic or municipal purposes.

Data from the United Nations shows that of the world's water, 97.5 per cent is salt water from its oceans, while only 2.5 per cent is fresh water, and of that 2.5 percent, approximately 69 per cent is frozen in glaciers and ice caps, leaving less than 30 per cent in fresh groundwater (swamps account for another 1 per cent).

'Moerk Water solutions' company from Germany is now working with the government and other partners in desalination project to produce enough water from the sea.

Mr Micha Leng, Moerk Water Solutions regional director, East Africa said that the four years desalination project is now producing an average of 200 litres of water from the sea water daily, but also depending on the demand.

Mr Leng said that they work in collaboration with ZAWA to serve the community with water, but also in the tourism sector as a number of hotels replying on fresh water from desalination plants grows. "We have desalination plants to produce water for local people at Chukwani- Zanzibar municipality, Uzi small Island, and Kokota Small Island in Pemba.

We have several tourist hotels using the water," said Mr Leng. Mr Leng said the first project was at Chwaka where fresh water in the wells turned salty due to climate change. But the desalination plant at Chwaka has been closed after the government extended pipe water to the village from a nearby village.

He said that his company has been in Zanzibar for some time working with the Karume Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in training students to become mechanics (car repair). But later due to increasing water scarcity we decided to work with the government to help in desalination of seawater.

"I hope the desalination process can solve water shortage on the islands," he argues. He said although the process is relatively expensive, "currently a minimum of USD 20,000" it is a good solution to the current water crisis in Zanzibar and that the people and government can invest.

He said that developments in desalination technologies are specifically aimed at reducing energy consumption and cost, as well as minimizing environmental impacts. Solar energy is used in all the desalination plants. Mr John Mhina, head of service Zanzibar- Moerk Water Solutions said that ZAWA has been working hard, but it is overwhelmed with challenges particularly shortage of funds to improve water system.

He said: "the government should support ZAWA alongside improving public private partnership in making sure that water crisis ends. People can also be encouraged to pay for water so generate income for the water authority." Mr Mhina said that availability of water is among workable strategy to fight poverty, and that the time spent to search for water, can be used in development programmes like school, farming, and other income activities.

Because of the importance of water some countries in Africa like Tanzania have 'water week', and also governments in Africa have their annual 'African Water Week' which represents a political commitment at the highest level where governments, regional institutions, international partners, the private sector, civil society, and the media focus on Water.

Officers responsible for water, from different parts of the world, and in particular Africa, meet during the "African Water Week" to discuss and collectively seek solutions to Africa's water and sanitation challenges.

It is held annually in keeping with the decision of the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) to institutionalise the Africa Water Week (AWW) in order to build momentum on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) water and sanitation targets by 2015, and the 2025 Africa Water Vision.

Analysts argue water means different things to each of us but one thing is certain - it is vital for all our lives and that's why the UN designates 22 March every year as World Water Day: a day to celebrate life giving water. It is estimated that about 748 million people around the world still have no clean water to drink.


Photo courtesy of Travel Aficionado on Flickr.