Beyond the call of duty: Academics to lend a hand in Iraq

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Changing the world one drop of clean water at a time: Professor Jean Simonis had the undivided attention of these two pupils while demonstrating how the revolutionary ceramic filtration system works

Changing the world one drop of clean water at a time: Professor Jean Simonis had the undivided attention of these two pupils while demonstrating how the revolutionary ceramic filtration system works

BHEKI MBANJWA
THE University of Zululand could have the answer to one of the most devastating humanitarian problems in the north-eastern parts of Iraq. Head of Hydrology Professor Jean Simonis recently visited Iraq’s Kurdistan region on a humanitarian mission taking with him 10 of the ceramic water filters developed at the university.

The low-cost, easy-to-use instrument – used for the treatment of household water – attracted interest from the authorities there and from specialists at the United Nations’ co-ordination meetings, so much so that he has been requested to deliver 10 000 units in December.

The filtration system uses a porous ceramic filter and can deliver water to a family of four for a year. He is due back in Iraq to source the raw materials with the intention of having them manufactured there, but the lack of resources remains a prohibiting factor in manufacturing on a large scale.

Asked how fast the water was delivered, Prof Simonis tells of how at the recent trade fair in Richards Bay he tried to “outdrink” the filter.

“Believe me there is no one who drinks water more than me, but after two hours I could not do it anymore. I was ready to burst,” he says laughing. It remains the most efficient and cost-effective solution to water problems experienced by the displaced Kurds. “People there are buying bottled water every day. They spend about R15 or R20 buying litres of bottled water that has not even been tested.”

He says the ceramic filter, which could sell for as little as R150 would also offer a solution to many African households who are without clean drinking water. The ceramic filter meets the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations on household water treatment systems.

It has now been improved – through the addition of a metallic oxide coating on the ceramic filter – to ensure the filtered water is virus-free while activated carbon is used to kill pesticides, herbicides and to remove bad odours from the water. “The good thing about it is that it is non-chemical,” he says, stressing that chemical water treatments have long-term adverse effects on health. Next year Prof Simonis is planning on taking a group of academics from the University of Zululand to Iraq following a request from the University of Sulaymaniyah.

The academics from UNIZULU will be drawn from various programmes and will share expertise on how to improve various aspects of life in the war-torn country, especially for the refugees and the IDPs (internally displaced persons). It will be a multipronged approach, he says.