Is Desalination The Answer For Africa’s Water Shortages?
South Africa’s 3,000-kilometer coastline could support a whole fleet of eco-friendly desalination plants that will solve the country’s water shortages and produce a new industry, says Kgalema Motlanthe.
The former South African deputy president, Motlanthe served as president for eight months following Thabo Mbeki’s resignation. He spoke at round table event on black industrialists in the green economy, encouraging exploration of desalination technology, MiningWeekly reports.
South Africa in 2015 recorded its lowest annual rainfall since record keeping began in 1904. A drought, attributed to El Nino, put millions at risk of food shortage, according to Reuters.
The country is over-dependent on surface water, said Nomvula Paula Mokonyane, South Africa’s Minister of Water Affairs.
Globally, capacity is growing for seawater reverse osmosis desalination at an annual rate of 13.6 percent and this is expected to continue the next five years, according to Research and Markets. New technology is helping the industry grow by leveraging renewable energy and innovative membrane upgrades such as ceramic and polymeric membranes.
But desalination technology hasn’t caught up to demand. Desalination is extremely expensive and prone to contamination, Frost & Sullivan reported in October, 2015.
More than 17,000 desalination plants operate in 150 countries worldwide, a capacity that is expected to double by 2020, according to Frost & Sullivan’s Analysis of Global Desalination Market. The market earned $11.66 billion in 2015 and it’s expected to reach $19.08 billion in 2019.
“Environmentally-conscious countries in Europe and the Americas are hesitant to practice desalination owing to its harsh effects on sea water,” said Vandhana Ravi, a Frost & Sullivan consultant. “Eco-friendly desalination systems that do not use chemicals will be well-received among municipalities.”
While several desalination projects are under construction in the U.S., India, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, adoption is slow in other drought-stricken parts of the world. Lack of regulatory support limits uptake.
Thermal desalination technology uses large amounts of energy and releases highly salty liquid brine back into the sea or other bodies of water, impacting the environment negatively. Brine disposal remains a prime challenge until the technology is upgraded, according to Frost & Sullivan.
The goal is to reduce operating costs.
Sub-Saharan Africa is largely dependent on rainfall, which has been erratic, and new partnerships are being forged from necessity.
In May, South Africa announced a partnership with Iran to develop desalination plants along all coastal communities to boost water supplies. President Jacob Zuma visited Iran in April.
Mossel Bay in the Western Cape is the site of South Africa’s largest desalination plant, converting salty seawater to drinkable water and helping supply water to state oil company PetroSA’s gas-to-fuel refinery.
South Africa is the main user of desalination technology in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana and Namibia also have operational plants. Algeria is using desalination on a large scale.
In April 2015, West Africa’s first desalination plant opened in Ghana. Accra Sea Water Desalination plant has capacity to supply 60,000 cubic meters a day of fresh water, enough for 500,000 residents in the Accra vicinity, WaterWorld reported.
In late 2015, Algeria’s Skikda desalination plant reached a milestone with a 200 million cubic meters of drinking water produced since starting operations in 2009, according to WaterWorld.
Desalinated water is used as drinking water for the city of Skikda, and feeds the local petrochemical complex. The Spanish company Abengoa Water runs the facility, along with two more desalination plants in Algeria at Honaine and Ténès.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans a trip in July to four East African countries — Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Rwanda looks to Israel as a model of how to build a modern country out of the devastation of genocide, Rwanda’s Ambassador Joseph Rutabana told The Jerusalem Post.
Rwanda is on Netanyahu’s list because it is arguably Israel’s closest friend on the continent. Rwanda wants to benefit from Israeli water management expertise, according to an Israeli diplomatic source.
“Israel has no water resources, but has developed other technologies toward recycling and water desalination that has made it self reliant,” Rutabana said. “In Rwanda we have lots of rain, but are still suffering from shortages.”