SEGH Articles

In Malawi "simple is not easy"

01 March 2013
Effectiveness of sanitation, hygiene practices, and water supply interventions serving Malawi and the surrounding countries.

Dr Rochelle Holm's home is Mzuzu in Malawi, but she is originally from Washington State in the USA.  Rochelle served as a volunteer for 10 years leading African natural resource management and water quality projects before accepting the current permanent position at Mzuzu University. For 8 years Rochelle managed $1M/year soil and groundwater clean-up projects for the United States Department of Energy and Department of Defense.  Rochelle also served as a Natural Resource Management Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa, 2002-2003.  Through Rochelle's volunteer experiences,  relationships were developed, and combined with her professional project management experience, led her to have a passion for the water and sanitation sector throughout Africa, a great fit for Rochelle's current role.

 

In Malawi, “simple is not easy”

Environmental Science is not always simple, though in the northern region of Malawi, Africa, there is a saying “simple is not easy.”   Malawi is a developing country located in southeastern Africa.  In 2009, the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation was established under the Department of Water Resources Management and Development within the Faculty of Environmental Sciences.  The primary objective of the Centre is to improve the effectiveness of sanitation, hygiene practices, and water supply interventions serving Malawi and the surrounding countries.  The Centre participates in applied research, water quality analysis, training, consultancies, outreach programs, and the practical application of research findings.  More importantly, the Centre through the Department of Water Resources Management is offering a degree programme in Water and Sanitation, which is an important link to the dissemination and documentation of research findings.

 

As an extension of the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation, in 2012 the Smart Centre was opened focusing on the practical implementation of low-cost household level water and sanitation technologies.  In contrast to the typical approach by non-governmental organisations and the donor community, the Smart Centre focuses on building capacity in water and sanitation focused businesses in Malawi.  This is accomplished through promotion of appropriate technology, training of Malawians and build-up of businesses to support self-supply.  The SMART Centre provides long-term sustainability and scaling up for water and sanitation technologies by building up the capacity of local entrepreneurs.   While the Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation can provide the scientific requirements per design of solutions and interventions, prompting of technologies on the ground is covered by the SMART Centre.  For example, the SMART Centre is currently prompting the use of a no-cement latrine design intended to last a family 7 years, allowing scale up of self-supply capacity for improved household sanitation.

Main activities at the Smart Centre include:

  • Support activities that will improve access to safe and clean water and sanitation with a focus on peri-urban and rural areas
  • Demonstration of a range of  innovative and affordable water and sanitation technologies
  • Training of the local private sector in manual well drilling, production of rope pumps, groundwater recharge, water storage tanks, irrigation, water filters, latrines  and other technologies
  • Support local businesses with training in production, maintenance, business management skills and formation of associations
  • Courses for NGOs and others in sustainable water supply and sanitation

 

Through a combination of research being conducted at the Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation and practical implementation led by the SMART Centre, this team at Mzuzu University is one of the only organisations in Malawi with such an emphasis on water and sanitation self-supply, thus making ‘simple’ a bit ‘easier.’

Dr Rochelle Holm,

Mzuzu University, Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation and SMART Centre Manager, Mzuzu, Malawi

rochelledh@hotmail.com

 

 

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Fate and partitioning of heavy metals in soils from landfill sites in Cape Town, South Africa: a health risk approach to data interpretation 2019-06-14

    Abstract

    The fate and persistence of trace metals in soils and sludge from landfill sites are crucial in determining the hazard posed by landfill, techniques for their restoration and potential reuse purposes of landfill sites after closure and restoration. A modified European Community Bureau of Reference’s (BCR) sequential extraction procedure was applied for partitioning and evaluating the mobility and persistence of trace metals (As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, Sb, Se, Zn) in soils from three landfill sites and sludge sample from Cape Town, South Africa. Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy was used to analyze BCR extracts. The mobility sequence based on the BCR mobile fraction showed that Cu (74–87%), Pb (65–80%), Zn (59–82%) and Cd (55–66%) constituted the mobile metals in the soils from the three sites. The mobility of Cu, Zn and Ni (> 95%) was particularly high in the sludge sample, which showed significant enrichment compared to the soil samples. Geo-accumulation index (Igeo) and risk assessment code were used to further assess the environmental risk of the metals in the soils. Exposure to the soils and sludge did not pose any non-cancer risks to adult and children as the hazard quotient and hazard index values were all below the safe level of 1. The cancer risks from Cd, Cr and Ni require that remedial action be considered during closure and restoration of the landfill sites.

  • An investigation into the use of < 38 µm fraction as a proxy for < 10 µm road dust particles 2019-06-13

    Abstract

    It is well documented that a large portion of urban particulate matters is derived from road dust. Isolating particles of RD which are small enough to be inhaled, however, is a difficult process. In this study, it is shown for the first time that the < 38 µm fraction of road dust particles can be used as a proxy for road dust particles < 10 µm in bioaccessibility studies. This study probed similarities between the < 10 and < 38µm fractions of urban road dust to show that the larger of the two can be used for analysis for which larger sample masses are required, as is the case with in vitro analysis. Road dust, initially segregated to size < 38 µm using sieves, was again size segregated to < 10 µm using water deposition. Both the original < 38 µm and the separated < 10 µm fractions were then subject to single particle analysis by SEM–EDX and bulk analysis by ICP-OES for its elemental composition. Dissolution tests in artificial lysosomal fluid, representative of lung fluid, were carried out on both samples to determine % bioaccessibility of selected potentially harmful elements and thus probe similarities/differences in in vitro behaviour between the two fractions. The separation technique achieved 94.3% of particles < 10 µm in terms of number of particles (the original sample contained 90.4% as determined by SEM–EDX). Acid-soluble metal concentration results indicated differences between the samples. However, when manipulated to negate the input of Si, SEM–EDX data showed general similarities in metal concentrations. Dissolution testing results indicated similar behaviour between the two samples in a simulated biological fluid.

  • Degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons in unsaturated soil and effects on subsequent biodegradation by potassium permanganate 2019-06-13

    Abstract

    To date, the oxidation of petroleum hydrocarbons using permanganate has been investigated rarely. Only a few studies on the remediation of unsaturated soil using permanganate can be found in the literature. This is, to the best of our knowledge, the first study conducted using permanganate pretreatment to degrade petroleum hydrocarbons in unsaturated soil in combination with subsequent bioaugmentation. The pretreatment of diesel-contaminated unsaturated soil with 0.5-pore-volume (5%) potassium permanganate (PP) by solution pouring and foam spraying (with a surfactant) achieved the total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) removal efficiencies of 37% and 72.1%, respectively. The PP foam, when coupled with bioaugmentation foam, further degraded the TPH to a final concentration of 438 mg/kg (92.1% total reduction). The experiment was conducted without soil mixing or disturbance. The relatively high TPH removal efficiency achieved by the PP–bioaugmentation serial foam application may be attributed to an increase in soil pH caused by the PP and effective infiltration of the remediation agent by foaming. The applied PP foam increased the pH of the acidic soil, thus enhancing microbial activity. The first-order biodegradation rate after PP oxidation was calculated to be 0.068 d−1. Furthermore, 94% of the group of relatively persistent hydrocarbons (C18–C22) was removed by PP–bioaugmentation, as verified by chromatogram peaks. Some physicochemical parameters related to contaminant removal efficiency were also evaluated. The results reveal that PP can degrade soil TPH and significantly enhance the biodegradation rate in unsaturated diesel-contaminated soil when combined with bioaugmentation foam.