RECIRCULATE – Working to help solve Africa's water crisis

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Lancaster University has been working with African scientists and researchers on a pioneering project to address the need for safe, sustainable water.

RECIRCULATE, a £7M project funded by the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, through UK Research and Innovation, is working closely with businesses, research organisations and communities in Africa solve the continent’s water crisis.

Staff in Lancaster, Ghana and Nigeria will work together to develop novel research around entrepreneurship, food security, health and sanitation, resource recovery from waste, and pathogens across many elements of the water economy.

One year into the four-year project, partners in the multi-national project came together in Accra, Ghana, to showcase their plans so far to help the 50 per cent of Africans who live in areas with no adequate water – expected to number 800 million by 2025 – and outline the way forward.

Members of the Lancaster University team, including Recirculate Director Professor Nigel Paul; Dr Ruth Alcock, head of Enterprise and Business Partnerships in the Lancaster Environment Centre; and Professor Kirk Semple, of the Lancaster Environment Centre, have spent the week in Africa.

The Lancaster team have met with their partners at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), visited field sites in the city of Kumasi, where they are working on research projects, and spent time in some of the poorer urban communities in Accra, where they hope to address issues with access to sanitation and the provision of clean water.

The Lancaster team were joined at the Kempinski Hotel, in the Ghanaian capital, by Lancaster University Vice Chancellor Professor Mark E Smith, representatives of other RECIRCULATE partners, policy-makers and members of the wider research, business and local communities who will engage with the project.

Professor Nigel Paul said: “RECIRCULATE is based on Lancaster’s leadership in building effective collaboration between world-class research and forward-looking businesses and other ‘change makers’ in the community. Our experience demonstrates that this type of collaboration is the best way to translate research into the new products and services that we all need for a clean and sustainable future.

“Now we are sharing that experience with colleagues across Africa, exploring with them how we can use our combined research strengths to make a difference in solving real world challenges, especially around water.”

The latest stage in the project follows a year in which around 180 individuals from more than 60 organisations in Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Kenya attended one-week residential workshops at the Lancaster University Ghana campus in Accra.

Of those, 72 were selected to travel to Lancaster to complete bespoke training packages, typically lasting a month. Around half have already done so, taking part in diverse activities, from hands-on research methods, through visiting local businesses, presenting at conferences, writing skills training, to research communication.

“I can confidently say the hands-on experience during the residency will have a lasting impact on my research career,” said Mark Akrong, who travelled to Lancaster as part of the project for the Water Research Institute, of CSIR.

Pauline Stone, of Ghana-based H2O Solutions, who aim to provide sustainable water to remote areas of Africa, and who are part of the research community engaged with RECIRCULATE, also took part in the workshops. She said: “I really felt blessed to be a part of six weeks of training through the RECIRCULATE programme, both in Ghana and the UK.

“I was given the opportunity to realign my aspirations, which are to inspire other women, and to expand my knowledge of water-related issues through research.

“I was able to discover and create opportunities to develop better water sanitation across Africa.”

Emmanuel Arthur, from Lancaster University Ghana, was another who took part in the workshops in Lancaster, and he said: “It was an exhilarating yet informative lifetime experience of intense research and capacity building.”

Along with the CSIR, Lancaster University Ghana and the University of Benin are founding partners of the RECIRCULATE project.

The Botswana International University of Science and Technology, the African Technology Policy Studies Network (Kenya), The National Commission for Science and Technology (Malawi), and The Copperbelt University (Zambia) are also involved in a growing pan-African network.

RECIRCULATE will continue hosting workshop-based training in sub-Saharan Africa, with two more programmes in 2019 and a final two in 2020, each developing links with research partners in South and West Africa and their communities.

Dr Akanimo Odon, African Strategy Advisor, Lancaster Environment Centre, said: “All RECIRCULATE partners see the project as the first step in building powerful and long-lasting networks of international collaborations. The project will empower individuals and organisations to really make a difference to address the development challenges that face Africa. We all know that will not happen over-night, but when it does happen it will transform the way African researchers work with, in and for their communities.

“RECIRCULATE partners in Ghana have already built on Lancaster’s links with academics from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) India. CSE have trained four researchers, one in Delhi and three at Cape Town University, to expand the capacity and potential of this innovative project.”

Representatives from CSE were in Accra for this week’s event.

The launch was covered by the TV cameras of CNBC Africa for broadcast at a later date.