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Solar-powered UV-C point-of-use treatment of drinking water at schools and health clinics in Kenya

The UNSW Water Research Centre (WRC) and the UNSW Humanitarian Engineering Program are fortunate to be working on a project to improve the drinking water at schools and health clinics in Kitui, Kenya. The project is part of the REACH programme led by the University of Oxford, with UNICEF as the global practitioner partner and funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

REACH is a global research programme to improve water security for 10 million poor people in Asia and Africa by 2024. UNSW is excited to bring a new sustainable and appropriate technology to water treatment in such areas and due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, will be working on the ground virtually with FundiFix - a Kenyan-owned and registered social enterprise that provides professional repair and maintenance services for rural water infrastructure serving communities, schools, and health facilities - to deliver the project unit installation, testing and monitoring activities completely remotely.A primary school in Kitui County identified as a potential site for installation of the UV-CLED Water Treatment System

Solar-powered application of ultraviolet (UV) LEDs for point-of-use water treatment has been developed and rigorously tested at UNSW WRC by Dr. Gough Lui, Dr. David Roser, Dr. Richard Corkish and Prof. Richard Stuetz. The treatment systems will be designed to piggy-back on the existing water tank infrastructure to provide a simple-to-use on-demand disinfected water supply. This technology specifically uses shortwave UV-C wavelengths of light and in the last eight years the UV-C LED technology has seen a 10,000-fold decrease in the cost per milliwatt output and ten-fold increase in energy efficiency. These efficiencies in cost and energy now put point-of-use UV-C LED treatment of water for drinking and hygiene purposes within reach of poor and disadvantaged communities. Dr. Andrew Dansie joins the research team as the Humanitarian Engineer to assess socio-barriers to the uptake of a new technology and assist with community engagement, education and ownership which is central to developing an appropriate and sustainable solution. Dr. Dansie brings extensive experience working in Kenya and eastern Africa. 

The development sector still has a long way to go to achieve SDG targets of improved and safe water for drinking and hygiene. In Sub-Saharan Africa only 27% of the population currently use a safely managed drinking water service. To pilot this new technology UNSW WRC and the Humanitarian Engineering Program at UNSW are bringing technical and social expertise together through the UNSW Global Water Institute. This inter-disciplinary approach is applied to best-enable sustainable and context-appropriate solutions that are developed in partnership with local communities and partners.

This technology offers a decentralised drinking water disinfection that is powered by renewable energy, supporting safe water security for the world’s poor and addressing SDG6 targets in low to middle-income countries. Sustainability of the project is planned for through the partnership with FundiFix. FundiFix provide the essential context of the problem and feasibility of the proposed solutions. Training and education material developed as part of the project will be used to broaden the current capabilities of FundiFix and build the local professional capabilities in the region.  

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