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Lynn’s Letters


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22 December 2016

Good News from Malawi

2016 has been a mixture of excitement and frustration for us at SOWTech.

We have met lots of new people who have both inspired and challenged us; from the i-teams students at Cambridge University looking at new ways to store biogas and growing algae as a nutrient supplement to the trustees of small charities making a positive difference to the communities they support.

We now have closer collaboration with some of the students who have now graduated from Cambridge University especially Steph Willis, Ravi Solanki and Archy de Berker. Their drive and enthusiasm has had such a positive influence during the year.

We have also had the privilege of working with and getting to know better some of the Tanzanian supporters of the Dar es Salaam project. Hearing their stories and the hardships that they face makes us realise how privileged we are in the west and how much difference we could make to peoples lives in Africa.

John was able to travel to Dar es Salaam thanks to Cambridge Development Initiative. He was able to meet to people on the ground and to give them practical help and advice to help solve some of the problems that had been encountered with the SimplSafi-Flexigester system.

We have been able to send out more Flexigesters this year but the length of time it takes to for them to be shipped and to clear customs continues to frustrate us. However, as usual, we have ideas about this and hopefully we will have more news about this next year.

As well as practical work we have also had excitements in a more academic world. At the beginning of the year we had one of our technical papers published in the Tropical Agriculture Association journal. More recently John represented Butyl Products Ltd when he spoke at the International Society of Neglected Tropical Diseases annual Water Conference on community based sanitation.

2016 has been a year when we have started to look at new ways of doing things, new products and new ways to raise money to be able to help more people. At the moment we have done the preparatory ground work and we are hoping that some of these ideas will take off in 2017.

John Mullett outside BRAC offices in Tanzania Tanzanian students working on the Simpli Safi Flexigester project

Reflections on 2016

3 February 2017

You may remember that around this time last year I told you about the terrible effects that the drought was having on the Namisu Children’s Village in Malawi. I shared with you the photograph below, from Angus, the General Manager of the AquaAid in Malawi, of the maize crop failing through lack of water. He has been in touch with us again this year about his maize crop. This time it is much better news.

He said, “About a year ago I sent you a depressing photo of our maize crop at Namisu, stressed from drought. Thankfully, this year we have had very good rain and you can see from this recent photo a much better crop. The maize and food relief has generally been very good and alleviated a lot of suffering. Should the rains continue Malawi will harvest a good crop of maize this year.

The main rainfall season in Malawi is October to April and the rain generally starts in the south in November and gradually work northwards. The Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services is predicting above normal rainfall for large parts of Malawi this rainy season so this should be good news for the crops and for food security.

The dependence on the rains is literally life or death in many parts of Africa and yet there are very few schemes for large scale water harvesting. One noticeable feature of many African houses is that they have no gutters so when it rains the rain water runs away and is lost. One of the things we have been working on here at SOWTech is domestic rain water harvesting. We have been designing gutters that work on corrugated tin roofs. These gutters are connected to water tanks that can hold thousands of litres of water rather than the domestic-sized cement or blow moulded plastic water tanks that hold hundreds of litres. The SOWTech view is that the more water that can be stored in the rainy season the more will be available in the dry season.

Maize growing in Malawi in 2016 Maize growing in Malawi in 2017

Last years maize crop in January 2016

This years maize crop in January 2017

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SOWTech at FSM4

6 March 2017

Last month there was a big conference in Chennai, India; the 4th International Faecal Sludge Management Conference. Held over four days on 19-23 February, there were 143 presentations as well as an exhibition and poster sessions. The focus of this years conference was innovative and practical solutions that can be scaled up. There were three tracks: research, case studies, and industry. On the Tuesday in the Industry track session “Technology innovation – From the field” our very own Ravi Solanki presented a paper “SimpliSafi: an off-site sanitation system that vertically integrates waste collection and sludge processing for informal settlements”. You can find the abstract on this link to the susana website and then choosing the "FSM Industry Track" and the abstract of Ravi's presentation is on page 34. You can view the slides here and listen to the full presentation. The link to the slides contains a lot of pictures of the SimpliSafi system in Dar es Salaam. The second link is an audio of the full conference session with Ravi's talk starting at about 3.5 mins. Ravi had been sponsored by The Gates Foundation to be able to attend the event.

He had found the conference very interesting and very stimulating and has come back with lots of contacts that we need to follow up. There were a wide range of new technological innovations presented showing how much the sanitation issue has rapidly come up the agenda since we first started working on it. However Ravi’s overall impression was that although the conference was big on innovations there was a lack of implementation of ideas into practical situations. This was one of the reasons that so many people were interested in SimpliSafi and the Flexigester, because we did have examples of it being implemented in real life situations. Hopefully we can build on this over the coming year.

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