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Monday, November 26, 2012

Next toilet innovation; no piped water or sewer


By Esther Nakkazi
Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put up a $3 million grant to reinvent the toilet, as a stand-alone unit, hygienic, safe, with no piped-in water or a sewer connection—all for less than 5 cents a day.

Eight universities, each with a grant of $400,000 got into the competition, one of these based in Africa, the University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa and in August this year, exhibited their innovations in the USA.

Toilets from the reinvent the toilet challenge do not discharge pollutants, are waterless and with no septic system, generate energy and recover salt, water, and nutrients from the waste.

They can also be easily be adopted by local entrepreneurs for a sanitation business as the operational cost per user is only 5 cents ($0.05) a day.

Three of the toilet innovations up for the challenge transform feaces into biological charcoal or biochar, using a technology that decomposes the human waste at high temperatures without oxygen. The produced biochar would be combusted and the heat generated used to recover water and salts from the feaces and urine.

The self-contained toilet system, using this technology, developed by Stanford University and the Climate Foundation in US, will be shipped before the close of the year to a Nairobi slum to process two tons of human waste daily, said a statement from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Part of the strategy of reinventing the toilet also involves gathering what people want and measuring if it really works. So participating teams have to a duty to work in close collaboration with local communities in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia where the burden of unsafe sanitation is greatest. 

The toilets should also spur behavior change, improving hygiene and stopping open defecation done by more than a billion people in the developing world.

Four other toilet innovations will use technology that will disinfect urine using ultra-violet light and boiling the urine under pressure to recover highly purified water.
The University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, toilet system is designed to recover water and carbon dioxide from urine in community bathrooms and extrude feces into thin strands for faster drying and stabilisation.

A solar-powered toilet by the California Institute of Technology in the US, will generate hydrogen and electricity. This toilet will have a solar panel that will produce enough power for the electrochemical reactor that will break down water and human waste into hydrogen gas. It will be interesting for the winning toilet to be adopted in the developing world.

The Gates Foundation announced the reinventing the toilet challenge, for Universities, in April 2011, at the third African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene, AfricaSan, in Kigali, Rwanda calling for new ideas and innovations for a toilet.

The current flush toilet was invented over 200 years ago, and it has been able to reach only one-third of the world, leaving more than a billion people to open defecation and diseases caused by unsafe sanitation leading to half of all hospitalizations in the developing world.    

The World Health Organization (WHO) says improved sanitation can produce up to $9 for every $1 invested by increasing productivity, reducing health care costs, and preventing illness, disability, and early death.

Reducing by half the number of people who don’t have access to basic sanitation is a key target of the United Nations’ 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to WHO access to safe sanitation would reduce child diarrhea by 30 percent and significantly increases school attendance especially for girls, who often miss work or school when they are menstruating and risk sexual assault when they are forced to defecate in the open or use public restrooms. 
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East Africa Tea Growers reject electronic auction


By Esther Nakkazi

East Africa tea traders and growers have rejected the replacement of the current manual open outcry system, with the computerized electronic auction.

After sensitization of all users of the Mombasa tea auction, about switching to computer screens, or the ‘mouse’, stakeholders voted to retain the usual haggling over prices using the open outcry system, using the ‘hammer’.

Electronic auctioning was meant to improve efficiency-reduce auction time, transaction costs, improve transparency and directly involve more players with no limitations on space by the auction halls.

It would also guarantee remunerative prices to tea growers and provide real time information to all stakeholders through the tea growing and selling chain.

Tea auctioning at Mombasa, which sells all the teas grown in the East African region, and provides 20 percent of the teas on the world tea market, was to go electronic by 2013 and be implemented using the Indian tea e-auction model, the only country in the world using it. 

But stakeholders, overwhelmingly, voted against it, in a meeting held last month by the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) saying the auction, which basically, is a ‘public sales’, would lose its transparency, competition and risks technology failure without a guaranteed power supply at Mombasa.

“There is likely to be loss of negotiation advantage offered by face to face and the system will reduce transparency. As Uganda we confirm that due to majority expression we do not want the e-auction for now,” said William Ssekitoleko, the Chairman Uganda Tea Association.

While some members from the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) agreed to since they have already automated from farm to warehousing, James Finlay and Sotik tea felt EATTA should automate live capturing or recording of data and information, but not replace the ‘Hammer’ with the mouse.

For over 50 years now, buyers and brokers have haggled over tea prices, at the Mombasa tea auction, watching each other’s body language and facial expressions while endlessly sipping cups of tea and adding a dollar to become the highest bidder for the 8 hours that the auction runs with no health breaks.

Using the e-auction would be a health hazard if buyers were to sit uninterrupted through the 8 hours looking at computer screens and the auction would lose its gusto, those in favor of keeping the traditional ‘hammer’ or open outcry system said, in an EATTA report published last month.

Besides, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania tea stakeholders also complained of a not so well developed IT system in their countries so they would not have access to computers and internet all the time.  

Unconvinced that the e-auction would reduce costs, tea buyers say they would have to engage technology savvy personnel, adding extra costs, and most of the brokers would lose their jobs since it would be possible for potential customers to buy directly from producers. 

To become a tea broker takes many years of developing skills of tasting, valuation, market reviews and giving independent quality perceptions to buyers and producers, which makes them respectable and professional at their job.

Electronic auctioning would lessen the relevance of brokers in the tea auction process and their expertise would be lost, says the EATTA report with suggestions from tea buyers, packers, producers and brokers from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

As it was supposed to be modeled alongside the Indian tea e-auction, a team from EATTA left for India on a fact-finding mission but found that despite it operating for eight years now, the Indians still preferred the manual open outcry system.

The report presented by the team to EATTA says the Indian government imposed the e-auction on them in order to collect more taxes from tea but they were unhappy with it because it was not interactive and it was too commercialized without meeting in the auction room.

But there are also differences in the Mombasa and Indian tea auctions. While, Mombasa is unique, trading in dollars, dealing in different teas originating from all East African countries and exporting almost all its leaf, India trades in the local currency, the Rupee and the domestic market consumes most of the tea from the auction.

Some Indian tea producers felt there was reduced competition after the e-auction, which was now losing 3-4 percent of their annual production, although the loss was not entirely placed on it.

For instance, one type of tea, the Orthodox tea, had a price decline of 40 rupees (US $1) per kilogram in one year since going through the e-auction. But Indian producers of premium teas were happy that they gained good prices says the report.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Uganda Men Prefer China Style Male Circumcision


By Esther Nakkazi

Andrew Sekitto, 35 years, was hesitant to be part of the research on voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) that was held in Rakai, Uganda, nine years ago. It was a landmark research in 2007 that proved that adult male circumcision reduced the risk of acquiring HIV infection by 60 percent. Sekitto just feared the ‘cut’.

Now, after conversations with friends, who were part of the China invented Shang ring research, still in Rakai, he has had medical male circumcision. He says his wife, Sarah Nambi, and him too, appreciate this procedure because his penis looks neat with no sutures, there was very little bleeding and pain, plus it all healed fast, only a week.

Like the growing trade between Africa and China, the ‘Chinese cut’, is preferred to the conventional method of VMMC by many Ugandan men. It is, thus, envisaged that the Shang ring might accelerate male circumcision programs in Africa.

Steven Mugamba, a researcher with the Rakai Health Sciences, which, has been part of both studies said, while they required 250 men to enroll for the just ended study on acceptability and safety of the Shang ring, the number of those who enrolled, more than doubled, to 520.

“We have done research for both methods in Rakai. Men say they prefer this method, there is high acceptability,” said Mugamba. The survey site for the Shang ring in Uganda is the third, after similar studies were done in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

A counter study was not done in tandem, but safety and acceptability of the ring by adult men was compared to the already collected data in 2007 that proved the benefit of female to male HIV transmission was reduced by 60 percent.

The Rakai study, now endorses, further and proves that VMMC if done safely, is affordable and has minimal side effects or pain, it is easily acceptable. But also more men, in Uganda, accepting VMMC using the Shang ring could improve progress towards the target of having 4.2 million males circumcised in the country by 2015.

Only 25 percent of the required target of men to be circumcised in Uganda has been met, which questions the country’s ability to use scientifically proven medical interventions to reverse the rising prevalence and infection rates.

“This country’s national safe male circumcision plan lacks a budget, annual targets or concrete plans for scale-up. In fact, there is persistent contradictions among officials about whether even circumcision has a role in the response to HIV in Uganda,” said Alice Kayongo, an HIV advocate from Alliance Uganda.    

UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued recommendations for VMMC, for countries with high prevalence rates, hoping that at least 80 percent of males aged 15-49 years in 14 priority countries including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania would be circumcised.

According to mathematical modeling based on a timeline, if 80 percent coverage where achieved by 2015, more than 20 percent of new HIV infections would be averted by 2025, with an estimated $16.6 billion saved in future medical costs in these countries. 

However, even if Uganda’s HIV prevalence has risen from 6.4 to 7.3 percent, its progress towards bringing this prevention intervention to scale is still so slow. But the Shang ring could be helpful and this is why.  

One bright sunny morning, when Sekitto decided to go for the Shang ring VMMC after being convinced by a friend, he was amazed. The procedure that took about 5-10 minutes with no general anesthesia but only for the part to be operated part was not painful at all.

Basically, his penis was marked to gauge its size that would fit the forceps (plastic rings) which were placed on it, the sides of the skin were cut, to give way for applying the outer ring. He then walked home to his wife, with the ring on the penis, only to return after a week to have it removed. There were no sutures, little bleeding and no pain.     

Experts believe that once the PrePex, another non-surgical procedure, which is the next research that the Rakai Health Services will embark on is introduced even more men will opt for VMMC and the targets are met.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

First Steps for Geothermal Power in Uganda


By Esther Nakkazi

Katwe Geothermal Power Project Limited (KGPL), an indigenous investment, is in the process of establishing the first geothermal electric power station in Uganda. 

KGPL is teaming up with an American investor, AAE systems Inc, a global engineering and development company in the turn-key geothermal project, investing a venture capital of $2 billion.

The project is also eligible for accessing the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGEO) mitigation funds against risk.

Geothermal energy is heat in form of steam derived from the earth’s geological structures used directly or indirectly for generating electrical energy. The steam goes to a turbine, which drives a generator that produces electricity.

The project will get a Power Purchase Agreement from government to operationalize its licence in Katwe Kikorongo-Bunyampaka geothermal field, said Ralph K. B. Nyakabwa-Atwoki, the project consultant.

Uganda under this project will be able to generate up to 300MW, a half, of its total geothermal power potential capacity of 600MW. Its implementation however, will be in three phases; surface surveys and drilling of at least three geothermal wells will be completed in 2 years to produce 10MW.

After finding the steam, an electric generator or steam turbine will be installed using the ‘Well Head Technology’ to produce up to 200 MW initially in about 4 years time.

Mr. Nyakabwa-Atwoki, also businessman said they are positive about the project because of its location; the subsurface temperatures for Katwe are about 140-200 degrees Celsius predicted by Geothermometry models.

While underground, drilling to a shallow depth of 200-300 meters suggests temperatures of 30-36 degrees Celsius per kilometer, which are slightly above the global average of 30 degrees and also suggest deep reservoirs in Katwe area.

Mr. Amos George Basaza, the chairperson of Petroleum Technical Committee said the 200MW geothermal would improve electricity coverage in Uganda, which is still one of the lowest in Africa, at 12 percent for the whole country, and 6 percent in rural areas. 

Uganda also has a modern renewable energy policy that aims to increase geothermal use from as low as 4 percent to 61 percent of total energy consumption by 2017.

Mr. Vicent Kato, the geothermal coordinator at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development said the government has a development plan for geothermal power and since 1993 they have been drilling wells. 

However, the programme is faced with barriers like lack of a geothermal policy and an Act, which is a big problem, specifically affecting the levels of investment in the sector and attracting investors.

“We have succeeded where everybody else failed, we have an investor who is interested,” said Nyakabwa-Atwoki excitedly of AAE systems Inc.

As an eligible candidate for accessing the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGEO), it will have 80 percent guarantee of surface surveys, which are estimated to cost $250,000.

While the risks of finding no steam or steam laden with heavy metals or of corrosive nature rendering it unusable for power generation has a 40 percent guarantee against $700 million investment. The project is also in an earthquake prone area.  

This is in addition to further protection by Uganda’s membership of Multilateral investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) of the World Bank.

KGPL officials said they would rely heavily on Kenya, for its expertise in training the manpower, engineering works, management and to generally transfer geothermal technology to Uganda.

Kenya already has an installed capacity of about 280MW in geothermal energy, but in 2011, the Menengai Well with a geothermal potential of 1600MW was discovered. It is expected to produce 800MW by 2018.

However, scientists wondered about its environmental impact since it is found in a tourist area, around Lake Edward and Mountain Rwenzori, said chairperson of Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS) Prof. William Banage.

Scientists believe the Katwe-Kikorongo geothermal areas could be recharged from high ground in the Rwenzori Mountains and the hot spring water is a mixture of high-elevation component, local ground water from the Katwe cold springs and water from lakes in the area. The source of sulphate for the Katwe-Kikorongo hot spring water is magmatic and hydrothermal.

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