CSIR a consortium partner
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will represent South Africa in an international, multi-partner project, aiming to demonstrate that solar disinfection (SODIS) of drinking water is an effective, appropriate and acceptable intervention against waterborne diseases. The project has recently been awarded a €1.9 million research grant from the European Union (EU). Those who stand to benefit from this project include vulnerable communities in developing countries who normally do not have a reliable, safe water supply, as well as those communities who might find themselves exposed to natural or man-made disasters.
It is envisaged that the project, under the auspices of the EU Sixth Framework (FP6) Programme, will make a contribution to reducing the number of fatal casualties, especially amongst sub-Sahara African children under the age of five, who fall victim to diarrhoeal diseases as a result of being exposed to contaminated water. Research carried out in 2000 - 2003 concluded that 769 000 children died from diarrhoeal diseases in that period. In addition, more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water.
SODIS is a low tech, safe and affordable method to improve water quality which involves placing contaminated water into transparent bottles which are then placed in direct sunshine for 6 hours. The method has been approved by the World Health Organisation, and is commended for its proven efficiency in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia in 2004.
The three year SODISWATER programme will be carried out by nine research groups in Ireland, Spain, UK, Switzerland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Over the next three years, the multidisciplinary team will investigate the health benefits of using solar disinfected drinking water in developing countries, the factors that influence communities to adopt or reject SODIS, whether the basic SODIS technique can be improved using simple technologies and whether there are any major waterborne diseases that are not susceptible to SODIS.
“We want to confirm the considerable health benefits that can be derived, at no cost, from drinking solar disinfected water and increase awareness of this method in our country and other countries where sunlight abounds,” says Martella du Preez a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who also coordinates the health impact studies of the African countries, within the project.
“After a series of laboratory and field trials, we are certain that it is an effective way of
preventing many diseases such as cholera, dysentery or polio and that it should be considered as an option alongside boiling, chlorination and other standard water treatment methods,” she adds.
Other institutions participating in this study include the Kenyan International Community for the Relief of Suffering and Starvation, the Institute of Water and Sanitation Development in Zimbabwe, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), the University of Ulster, the University of Leicester (both in the United Kingdom), the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, the University of Santiago de Compostela and the Plataforma Solar de Almeria, both in Spain.
As part of the agreement, CSIR researcher Eunice Ubomba-Jaswa has travelled to Ireland to take up a three year PhD Research position under the supervision of Dr Kevin McGuigen, Department Physiology& Medical Physics at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Eunice will spend 18 months in Ireland and England and then move to Spain to complete her experiments under real sun conditions.