5 young leaders tackling Africa's droughts

Last month, the journal Nature warned that 30 percent of the world’s territory could fall into a state of desertification and perpetual drought by 2050, if global average temperature is allowed to rise by 2°C.

And nowhere is this threat greater than in Africa. In Cape Town, one of the continent’s most advanced cities and a global destination for tourism, warnings have been posted that taps will run dry by 12 April, which is being dubbed ‘Day Zero’ by locals.

But it is also in Africa where a series of outstanding One Young World Ambassadors are fighting back against water scarcity with innovative projects that are an inspiration to those who are fighting back against hunger, thirst and poverty all around the world.

SOUTH SUDAN: James Thuch Madhier

James founded The Rainmaker Enterprise, a social enterprise which uses solar power and sensors to efficiently irrigate fields. Farmers are able to monitor the amount of water in the soil by accessing data online and via SMS messaging. “We designed such sustainable approach because we believe peace, environmental safety and prosperity in Africa begins with efficient water management,” he says.

“Rainmaker installs solar-powered water pumps and drip irrigation systems in remote communities in South Sudan to power sustainable agriculture towards the achievement of peaceful and food secure communities. Our solar-powered drip irrigation model promotes the efficient use of irrigation water by monitoring the amount of water in the soil and environmental factors in the field, through a mesh network of sensing modules that are spread out in the fields.

The modules send data to a node, which sends data to the cloud.” James, who is studying Peace, Conflict & Justice at the University of Toronto, has previously worked as a community mobiliser for the education of girls living in Kakuma, Kenya’s largest refugee camp.

James recently announced he is on the Steering Committee for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, an Innovation Fund designed to identify and fund solutions that are addressing humanitarian crisis in conflict affected zones in the world. You can learn more and apply here.

SENEGAL: Fatou Mbow 

Fatou founded her company Zelalem Archi Consult (ZAC) to work with buildOn Senegal in delivering engineering and infrastructure designs for latrines and water points. She had contributed to the construction of 20 water points and 16 multi-compartment latrines in eight elementary schools in Kaolack in rural Senegal. This has led to increased student attendance. Access to drinking water and sanitation are fundamental human rights, she says.

“In rural Sub-Saharan Africa, millions of people share their domestic water sources with animals or rely on wells that are breeding grounds for pathogens.” Fatou, who is a Project Officer at African Union Commission, also sees herself as a role model for women in the fields of science and engineering. “I had to overcome cultural, professional barriers and stereotypes in Senegal,” she says. “This successful experience has deepened my interest to inspire women and girls by helping build their now confidence and aspire for greater opportunities.”

SOUTH AFRICA: Heloise Greeff Marais

Heloise is part of a team at Oxford University developing Smart Water systems for use in rural handpumps. The scheme involves fitting a simple, inexpensive device to a pump handle so that the pump and the water it provides can be monitored, ensuring a lasting, reliable and safe water source. She is developing algorithms that can detect pump failures in time for maintenance to be carried out, and to identify ground water levels which can inform public policy. Heloise is a founding member of Engineers Without Borders South Africa, which is dedicated to enabling young engineers to use and transfer knowledge which benefits society.

ETHIOPIA: Hermella Woldehana  

Ranks fourth in the world for the number of rural people without access to safe water (40.9m people, 51.4% of the rural population), according to WaterAid. Although it has made progress in addressing water shortages since 1990, the effects of rising temperatures and El Niño-induced drought threaten dire consequences for the country’s rural population.

At Mekelle University, Hermella founded the non-profit organisation Drop of Water (DOW), a platform of over 3,000 volunteers which constructs wells, promotes water safety planning and operates water safety awareness programs.  

DOW has helped ensure that 16,000 people in its project areas have access to clean water. “I have always believed it is a privilege for the youth to give something back to their community and I am proud that I created that platform through DOW,” she says. “DOW has been a bridge between rural communities and university youth students.”

MALAWI: Happy Arnold

People in Malawi are among 14m in southern Africa who in 2016 suffered severe food shortages as a result of drought. But Malawi is a country that has made strides in addressing water shortages. Between 2000-2015 the percentage of its rural population with access to safe water increased from  57.3% to 89.1%, according to WaterAid. That still leaves 1.5m in rural areas with access to water.

Happy founded Youth in Agriculture for Economic Development (YAED) to enable young people to participate in agriculture in a country where food production is hampered by climate change and drought. YAED is helping to fight malnutrition in a country where 36 per cent of children under five are underweight. Arnold points out that water provision is fundamental to hygiene and the minimisation of childhood disease.

“Water is the very core of basic sanitation, therefore, I cannot emphasise more its importance in ensuring the good health of the citizenry,” he says. He says better education is needed on the importance to water supplies of preserving vegetation in Malawi. “Stakeholders need to engage in more awareness campaigns on the dangers of tree cutting and the evil of not planting trees as we all know that vegetation cover is a core instrument in having a drought free environment.”

YAED aims to boost the Vitamin A and energy intake of women and children in rural households by improving planting materials and techniques.