Astronaut brings clean water to Rwanda

kigarama orphanage

Manna Energy Limited and Engineers Without Borders-USA are bringing clean water to rural Rwanda. As part of the Global Water Challenge, Manna –  a social enterprise developed by the Manna Energy Foundation and founded by NASA astronaut Ron Garan – have installed a water treatment system at the L’Esperance orphanage in Kigarama. It is now providing clean water for over 100 orphans. The system captures rainwater and stores it, the water is then purified through a system of gravel and sand filters before passing through a solar-powered disinfection unit. Before the system was installed, the orphans had to collect “dirty” water from a pipe at the bottom of a steep hill,

“It’s the only for-profit model I’ve seen to bring safe drinking water to schools, and it would be pretty remarkable if they can pull it off,” says Paul Faeth, executive director of the Global Water Challenge link

Manna say the system will pay for itself through carbon credits, as no wood or charcoal is used to purify the water through boiling. You can learn about the project in the short video below.

UPDATE: I wrote to Manna Energy about the project to try to find out how sustainable this project really is. They got back to me with the answers below:

The video emphasizes the sustainability aspect of the project, but what happens if and when the solar disinfection unit fails. How fail safe are the systems you install?

The systems Manna is installing now are directly in-line with existing pipelines. We monitor real-time pressure, flowrate, ultraviolet transmittance, and the status of our UV lamps. The control system turns on and off the UV lamps in response to the water quality and demand. Should the lamps fail, and stop treating the water appropriately, the system automatically shuts down the flow of water, and sends a text message via the cellular network to our technicians in Kigali. They will respond within hours to a failure and bring the system back on-line. In this way, we can work to ensure 100% disinfection, and nearly continuous up-time. Because we are doing this as a company, we are able to have a slightly higher-technology system, and afford to have technicians who can respond rapidly. We feel this is important to ensure delivery of what we’ve promised.

You are installing “400 water treatment systems, biogas generators, and high efficiency cook stoves for secondary schools in Rwanda” How far are you down the line? And when do you think the project will be completed?

We currently have two systems installed in Rwanda, and a third being installed now. We have also taken over responsibility of the Engineers Without Borders-USA systems, so there are a total of four systems operating now, treating water for about 1,500 people. Our Phase I program will install an additional 6 systems, for a total of 13,000 people impacted with clean water. These are much larger systems, as I mentioned, in-line with existing pipes.

Lastly, with the self-sustainability ethos using carbon credits. How does that work exactly and how long before each system installation pays for itself?

Our model is the first in the world to work to claim United Nations carbon credits (Carbon Emission Reductions, CERs) through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). In order to generate the credits, we have to complete registration of our project through the CDM. This has been a two year process for us, and we are now in the “validation” stage. A third party validator is evaluating our projects, and will make a recommendation, hopefully positive, to the CDM by early next year. If we are ultimately approved by the CDM, we will have a license to produce carbon credits from our water treatment systems.

Our premise is that each liter of water that we treat is a liter of water that no longer should be boiled with wood. So our carbon credit trace directly back to reduced firewood demand. Our larger systems pay for themselves within about two years, and then generate additional revenue which allows us to repay our investors, pay for maintenance of those systems, and, most importantly, allow us to install additional systems in an economically sustainable way.

We have lined up letters of intent for investment from several major sources, including Acumen Fund and Calvert Foundation. These are not commitments to invest, but rather statements of intention to conduct formal due diligence on us after we complete registration with the United Nations. The Swedish Energy Agency, a unit of the Swedish government, has committed to purchasing 100% of our credits under this initial phase at fixed prices. And we work directly with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Millennium Development Goal Carbon Facility. The UNDP MDG Carbon Facility are our advisors, and have guided our registration process with the CDM.

I’ll be following this project with some interest. If it’s successful, the model could theoretically be mirrored in other locations.

Photographs taken from the Global Water Challenge video

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