Skip to main content

Biotechnology for Africa's sustainable water supply

Final Report Summary - WATERBIOTECH (Biotechnology for Africa's sustainable water supply)

Executive Summary:
More than water scarcity, diseases and civil wars, Africa is also the least wealthy continent, in terms of economic and financial resources. These combined and tightly linked problems have led to a restricted range of choices, affordable for African countries, to deal particularly with the water issue, as a major topic. Polluted water treatment before use has been their almost unique solution to deal with a growing water scarcity. The treatment of water and elimination of pollutants, mainly pathogenic organisms, xenobiotics and heavy metals, although itself presents significant challenges, is crucial for human health and environmental considerations. However, most regions in developing countries cannot afford the costs of advanced and specialized systems.
Numerous water cleaning methods are based in natural, plants or micro-organisms, biochemical processes. Biotechnology is a useful tool that is delivering improved products and process for environmental sustainability, and promises a range of benefits to manage the industrial WW economically and effectively around the world.
Some biotechnological techniques are quite sophisticated but others are simple, cost effective and adapted to local conditions and resources of developing countries. These natural biological treatment systems include lagooning, land treatment, phytodepuration, or constructed wetlands systems. They can be applied as secondary or tertiary purification treatment, allowing the removal of pathogenic microorganisms and the degradation of the organic pollutants, so that waste water can be recycled for irrigation and domestic use and hence reduce the pressure on the hydric resources. Other biotechnological techniques to be taken into account within this proposal are biofiltration, membrane bioreactors and algae and other aquatic crops’ application for wastewater purification.
WATERBIOTECH project has been a platform for the transfer of knowledge in order to foster the implementation of adequate biotechnologies according to the African context. This work is based on a deep characterization of the continent performed at the beginning of the project and the evaluation of conventional and innovative technologies which are functioning in Europe and Africa. Not only technical aspects have been studied, on the contrary, one of the main conclusions is that logistical and organizational issues are usually responsible of the failure of a water treatment technology. The guidelines developed during the project include a strategy for implementation with recommendations for different technologies and aspects to be taken into account in the decision making at different levels. All this material was strongly disseminated at different levels, for instance guidelines are available at the project website ( training and demonstration workshops were organized and two international conference targeting relevant policy makers took place during the project time frame. The project was also an opportunity for the exchange of knowledge between European and African partners of the consortium. This was carried out through the exchange of personnel between the different organizations participating in the project. Other results include a data base of technology suppliers or cost-benefit analyses of potential water biotechnologies to be used in Africa.

Project Context and Objectives:
The WATERBIOTECH project proposal was led by TTZ (General Coordinator) and BIOAZUL (Administrative Coordinator). These two organizations are key actors in the sector of water treatment in Europe and Africa and had collaborated before in several projects in the field such as PURATREAT and NETSSAF in which the problematic of water supply and sanitation in Africa was tackled. The lack of adequate information and material adapted to the African context was one of the main obstacles identified in the previous experience: while there are technologies available in the market which can carry out an adequate treatment at reasonable price these systems are either not known or not correctly applied in Africa resulting in failure or not sufficient performance. Organizations of different countries and sectors were gathered in the consortium in order to ensure that the problem was faced following an integrated approach. WATERBIOTECH project started on the 1st of August, 2011 and has lasted for 30 months. The general objectives of the project are:
- To strengthen key stakeholders for the implementation of sustainable water management practices
- To support the capacity of local authorities and decision makers to fulfil their role in the adoption of sound integrated water resources management solutions
- To foster technology transfer, know-how and best practices from Europe to Africa and between African countries
- To promote cost effective biotechnologies adapted to local conditions in the African targeted countries
- To increase the efficiency of water use in agriculture
- To enhance water treatment biotechnological methods that increase water availability in households
- To promote innovations in wastewater management that increase annual irrigation water supplies
The Specific objectives are:
- To collect and analyze relevant information in the targeted countries that is required for proper water management planning and decision-making
- To assess potential low cost biotechnological methods and determine their feasibility for the targeted countries and regions
- To select efficient biotechnological practices adapted to specific targeted regions
- To provide tools for the proper planning and implementation of adapted technologies
- To build the capacities of relevant stakeholders for the implementation of adapted water treatment biotechnology
- To disseminate main project results

Project Results:
Main results are described below for each task and work package of the project:
WP1: General frame assessment:
Task 1.1: Region’s segmentation and characteristic description
Result: Definition of specific targeted regions with a representative of each region
Task 1.2: Evaluation of the general obstacles
Result: Report evaluating the general obstacles for the implementation of water treatment biotechnologies.

WP2: Assessment of biotechnological practices
Task 2.1: Evaluation of the State of the Art of the existing water biotechnologies and water management strategies
Result: Development, distribution and analyses of a three step questionnaire to evaluate the state of the art of the existing water biotechnologies and water management strategies in the addressed countries represented by the African partners.
Result: Evaluation of the existing water biotechnologies and water management strategies in the targeted countries.
Task 2.2: Definition of the requirements (technical and non-technical to overcome the present difficulties faced by the concerned regions
Result: Identification of Technical and non-technical requirements for the implementation of innovative water treatment
Task 2.3: Cost-benefit analysis
Result: Cost-benefit analysis of biotechnological best practices in the targeted countries

WP3: Coordination in technology development and improvement
Task 3.1: Evaluation of the potential biotechnologies for water treatment to be transferred to the targeted countries
Result: Report on potential innovative biotechnologies applicable to the context of the targeted countries.
Task 3.2: Selection of the appropriate techniques applicable to each of the regions
Result: Guidelines for the selection of appropriate water biotechnologies
Task 3.3: Readjustment of the financial and the cost benefit measures to the real need and requirement
Result: Tool for evaluating investments in water projects for the targeted regions through cost-benefit analysis.

WP4: Knowledge transfer
Task 4.1: Elaboration of a strategy for the implementation of the project’s biotechnological solutions
Result: Report on the strategy for the implementation of the selected biotechnological solutions identified in WP3.
Task 4.2: Development of a guideline for the water treatment biotechnologies implementation process
Result: Guidelines for the water treatment biotechnologies implementation process which summarized main project results
Result: Translation of the guidelines into Arabic and French
Result: Preparations of fact sheets to be used in capacity buildings events
Task 4.3: Planning of the implementation
Result: Preparation of 4 training workshops with the aim of training relevant stakeholders in main WATERBIOTECH outcomes.
Result: Staff exchanges between African and European partners have been carried out.
Result: Presentation of the project at different related events.
Result: The First International Conference took place in Cairo in October 2012
Result: The Second International Conference was held in Marrakech in January 2014
Result: Data base of technology providers

WP5: Dissemination activities
Task 5.1: Project website
Result: English, French and Arabic version WATERBIOTECH website ( available.
Result: The website has been continuously updated with news, deliverables and relevant information of WATERBIOTECH events.
Result: Project logo developed
Task 5.2: Promotion of scientific knowledge in water biotechnologies
Result: Publication of 4 scientific articles
Task 5.3: Production and dissemination of project promotional leaflets and posters
Result: The WATERBIOTECH first flyer and poster with project objectives and expected results
The WATERBIOTECH second flyer for the promotion of the final conference in Marrakech

WP6: Project Management
Result: Coordination or project activities, contact with partners and EC.
Result: Organization of technical meetings
Result: Distribution of payments
Result: Preparation of reports
Result: Preparation and distribution of templates for activity and financial reporting

Potential Impact:
The specific areas where WATERBIOTECH initiative will have direct impacts are:

Environmental impacts:
- Reducing pressure on freshwater resources: Safe recycling of wastewater will be on focus in the selection and promotion of adapted biotechnologies for the targeted regions to be performed during the project time frame. Substitution of precious drinking water in applications which do not require drinking water quality (non-potable reuse applications include industrial water, irrigation, toilet flushing and laundry washing) will be encouraged in guidelines and workshops. Contribution to widespread recycling of wastewater will lead to reduce the amounts of fresh water consumption as well as wastewater production. In arid and semi-arid regions of Northern, Eastern and Western Africa, where water scarcity is almost endemic, groundwater has played a major role in meeting domestic and irrigation demands. In these regions, massive use of groundwater has been practised reducing the amount of this valuable resource. Recycling practices to increase water availability are crucial in this part of the world.
- Reducing the contamination of water resources and regenerating polluted natural water bodies: In Africa, wastewater is mainly discharged without any kind of treatment. Wetlands and ponds have inadvertently received polluted runoff and served as natural water treatment systems, being subjected to wastewater discharges from municipal, industrial and agricultural sources. Wastewater discharge include agricultural and surface mine runoff, irrigation return flows, urban storm water discharges, leachates, and other sources of water pollution. Innovative biotechnologies to be identified for the targeted regions will enhance the treatment of specific pollutants such us pathogens, heavy metals and xenobiotics leading to a more effective removal of contaminants. Moreover, the use of water treatment biotechnologies will reduce the contamination of rivers and sea water.
- Promoting sustainable and environmentally sound technologies: Widespread water biotechnologies will permit to improve efficiency and effectiveness of water management through the adoption of cost effective and environmentally friendly technologies. These technologies are based on natural low-rate biological systems respectful with the surrounded environment. They tend to be lower in cost and less sophisticated in operation and maintenance than the conventional systems so that the investment for their implementation is also inferior. Although biotechnological processes tend to be land intensive they are often more effective in removing pathogens and do so reliably and continuously if properly designed and not overloaded.
- Water biotechnologies can often provide ecosystems services when improved water quality is accompanied by creating valuable wildlife habitat. Systems like wetlands, reed beds and ponds are widely recognized as providing many environmental benefits, including: food and habitat for wildlife; water quality improvement; flood protection; shoreline erosion control; and opportunities for recreation and aesthetic appreciation.

Socio-economical impacts:
- Public health improvement: In African countries, farmers commonly use nutrient-rich sewage and wastewater to irrigate their crops. In many places, this untreated wastewater is their only source of water for irrigation. However, as well as bringing benefits, the unregulated use of wastewater also poses risks to human health and the environment. WATERBIOTECH will foster safe uses of wastewater through promoting biotechnological best practices. Practical recommendations will be made available in guidelines and encouraged in the project workshops to make wastewater use safer and more sustainable without relying on non-affordable treatment technologies alone. Additionally, untreated wastewater has also health risks to households. Less than 10% of wastewater is treated in Africa, so that most of this polluted water is finally discharge to rivers and lakes contaminating drinking freshwater resources with pathogenic microorganisms.
Therefore promotion of sustainable wastewater treatment in Africa is crucial to fight against waterborne diseases such as cholera which causes millions of victims each year. Water treatment interventions can lead to dramatic improvements in drinking water quality and reductions in diarrhoeal disease. Hygienic behaviour is also directly linked to the availability of freshwater and has a negative impact in people‟s health. An improvement in water management will facilitate attitudes such as washing hands, or cleaning or cooking utensils that prevent contagious diseases.
- Improving food security through increasing the availability of water for irrigation and food production and productivity: Identification of good practices and the development of a strategy for the implementation of suitable water treatment biotechnologies for specific targeted regions during the project will provide local sustainable approaches for water management that increase the efficiency of agricultural practices. Since irrigation is largest water consuming sector in Africa, improved water treatment practices is an effective way to make agriculture more efficient. If wastewater is considered as an additional water source, an increased supply for irrigation and domestic used water can be ensured which will in turn lead to an increase in agricultural productivity. Additionally, wastewater can be used as a source of plant nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and trace elements allowing farmers to reduce or even eliminate the purchase of chemical fertilizer and of organic matter. Water treatment biotechnologies are often more effective in removing pathogens than conventional systems, for this and other reasons (e.g. affordability, simplicity, tolerance with the local idiosyncrasy, etc) these systems are adequate for the reutilization of treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation, but also for aquaculture and fish breeding, etc.
- Improving living conditions by fostering approaches that respond to the demands of households and communities: Technological and organizational solutions to be proposed during the project will be tailored to the targeted regions socio-economic and environmental situation. For that reason a deep regional characterization will be developed during the first months of the project. Furthermore, WATERBIOTECH tends to design water allocation strategies that maximize the economic and social returns to limited water resources, and at the same time enhance the water productivity of all sectors. In this endeavour, there needs to be a special focus on issues relating to equity in access to water and on the social impacts of water allocation policies.
- Empowering authorities and policy makers: The role of authorities and policy makers is essential for the widespread implementation of sustainable water treatment concepts. The implementation strategy to be developed under work package 4 will include the necessity of establish an adequate legal framework and incentives to facilitate the implementation of water biotechnologies. Authorities and policy makers will have an important role in the development of WATERBIOTECH activities, having within the consortium members of this group. They will be a target group in the project workshops, and project partners will be encouraged to take into account their opinion in the proposal of solutions. In this way, project results such as the selected biotechnological best practices adapted to the targeted regions and the strategy for their implementation will support decision makers to target investments more effectively, ensuring funds get allocated to where there is most need and having a wider range of technological solutions tailored to their local problems.
- Enhancing stakeholders‟ know-how: Capacity building of stakeholders will enable an effective transfer of knowledge in technological and organizational aspects in work package 4 where training workshops, exchange of staff members, and development of guidelines and recommendations among other activities will be performed. National agencies, local municipalities and policy makers, companies providing water treatment services, business sector, NGOs, rural associations and cooperatives, neighbourhood associations, and stakeholders from the informal sector (CBO organisations), among other actors will be invited to participate in project workshops and conferences, and their involvement in the project activities will be ensured by the African partners. The involvement from the beginning of the project of relevant stakeholders will ensure a multiplying effect of the dissemination activities.
- Reducing vulnerability and forced migrations of rural inhabitants: The rural populations most at risk from anticipated climate change impacts are those subsisting in semi-arid and arid zones who have few options for adapting to water scarcity other than migration. Seasonal out-migration is already a consistent feature of many rural communities of sub- Saharan and Northern Africa. In marginal arid and semi-arid zones with prolonged dry seasons, rain-fed production may carry a high risk of crop failure. Some stability of production can be assured only where continuous access to annually recharged groundwater is available. Where this is not available, rural populations tend to be mobile, out-migrating during dry years and returning during wetter periods. Water biotechnological practices to be fostered within the project will contribute to satisfy the demand for more reliable agricultural production systems at local and regional levels providing more secure water supply chains.
- More efficient use of financial resources: Water treatment biotechnologies offer a considerable opportunity for realizing sizable savings in wastewater treatment costs for small communities and for upgrading large treatment facilities. Recycling wastewater has the potential to save domestic water usage and thus to reduce the water bill in African households and businesses. The resulting financial savings will depend both on the price of water in the area and the amounts of water reused. Dissemination activities will spread these benefits among the general public within the targeted countries seeking to raise awareness about the potential of water biotechnologies to improve their living conditions.
- Creating job opportunities: Wastewater treatment biotechnologies also provide jobs and incomes for the business involved in the implementation, operation, input suppliers, and other service providers. Technology transfer of knowledge in WATERBIOTECH will facilitate the formation small and medium-size enterprises, which can supply local operational, repair and maintenance expertise and technicians. Additionally, increases in the efficiency of agricultural practices through a improved management of water resources will also have a positive impact in local economies. In most African countries, irrigated urban and peri-urban farming with highly polluted water sources contributes 60- 100 percent of the perishable vegetables needed in cities. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women particularly benefit, as in many countries more than 95 percent of vegetable vendors are women. Domestic wastewater is often used for producing rice and fish, as well as to grow fodder for livestock, and thus contributes to thriving small-scale enterprises based on providing milk to city dwellers. Promotion of water treatment biotechnologies will improve the workforce by enhancing capacity building, health and business opportunities. Furthermore, millions of people are forced to waste whole days of work or school just to fetch water from remote locations. Therefore, increases in water availability will permit that a higher participation of the labor force in the African economy.
- Improvement of women conditions: Women and men usually make different, and sometimes unequal, contributions to sanitation and water management at household level and community level. The implementation of sustainable water treatment systems should be promoted more widely, especially taking into account women interests. Health benefits and water availability obtained have especial impact in women since their ability to engage in economic activity is increased by freeing them from the time spent collecting water as well as in reducing time spent tending to sick family members.
- Strengthening the cooperation between African and European scientific community: All project activities will permit to exchange knowledge and expertise regarding the water and environmental field. This collaboration will bring benefits to both sides since water scarcity is a common problem whose importance will increase in the next years all over the world.
- WATERBIOTECH will create synergies between relevant topics in African development such us Health, Environment and Food Security that will be tackled in an integrated scope in order to ensure a deep impact of the project actions. Additionally, this initiative complements project and programmes of international donors in Africa seeking a safer and more sustainable management of water resources (e.g. World Bank, UNEP, etc.).
- WATERBIOTECH project will add value to existing programmes and projects by facilitating synergies and joint efforts in order to maximize coordinated action, coherence and effectiveness of the support provided to countries pursuing the goals agreed upon by the international community. This is in line with the integrated water resources management (IWRM) approach, which calls for collaboration among all stakeholders in water management.
- Prevent water disputes between African countries: More than 80 of Africa‟s river and lake basins are shared by two or more countries and many countries depend on water flowing from outside their national boundaries. Some large-scale water infrastructure projects including dams may exacerbate the impacts of flooding and drought, threatening people’s livelihood and further reducing their access to water. Fostering recycling practices from water treatment biotechnologies will reduce the dependency of freshwater resources and alleviate the water conflicts. Furthermore, the transboundary nature of water means that regional and sub-regional cooperation are essential to ensure the beneficial and sustainable use of this resource. In this sense WATERBIOTECH, as a Coordination Action involving partners of different African countries will constitute an international platform for promoting sustainable management of water resources and seeking dialogue and democratic procedures that involve all relevant stakeholders in the proposal of solutions.

The impact of the project activities have been fostered through several training and dissemination activities during the project:
- Training and demonstration workshops where relevant decision makers have been trained in the use of WATERBIOTECH guidelines.
- Project website where WATERBIOTECH reports, guidelines, events and news have been published.
- Organization of two International Conferences held in Cairo and Marrakech respectively
- Publication of a data base of biotechnology suppliers
- Exchange of staff between African and European organizations of the consortium
- Preparation of dissemination material (leaflets, posters, fact sheets, etc.)
- Publication of articles about WATERBIOTECH results in relevant journals of the water sector (e.g. Sustainable Sanitation in Practice).

Moreover, WATERBIOTECH guidelines and training material comprising main project outcomes will be used in further capacity building activities after the project ends. Some of the activities identifies by the project participants are the following:
- The course of wastewater treatment for PhD and master level students given by the African universities and research centres participating in the project. And in the frame of workshops, seminars and conferences organized by authorities, local associations, NGOs, etc. WATERBIOTECH documents can also offered to the audience
- Articles to be submitted to conferences and journals related to WATERBIOTECH results. For instance, the International Water Association (IWA) has offered to publish a compilation of technical deliverables in a publication of less than 80 pages. All partners agreed on preparing the publication. TTZ will coordinate this work which will be finalized during 2014 after the end of the project
- Technical course addressed to Master students of Environmental Engineering and Sustainability given by UPC (Spain). Four hours will be dedicated to biotechnology and constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment in Mediterranean region.

List of Websites:
Fabio Pereira
ttz Bremerhaven
An der Karlstadt 6
27568 Bremerhaven
Tel.: +49 471 80934 114
Fax: +49 471 9448 722