UFS takes cholera fight to the source

Photo used for illustration.

After the recent, rapid rise in cholera cases around South Africa, the University of the Free State’s Centre for Environmental Management (CEM), alongside the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has taken to developing a revolutionary solution to clean South African water supply.

The collaboration between CEM and CSIR seeks to target the country’s water infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. The approach is centered on ecological engineering and promises to be an answer to the water issues South Africa is experiencing. While traditional wastewater management in the country seems to be struggling, the natural solution that the UFS is working towards will seemingly not have such problems.

Director of CEM, Prof. Paul Oberholster, explained that the different natural-based solutions include phycoremediation, a biological clean-up technology that uses indigenous micro or macroalgae to remove contaminants from wastewater and “effectively transforms pollutants into benign substances by harnessing nutrient enrichment”. He went on to say that “phycoremediation is a cost-effective and resilient process that can accommodate varying substance quantities and consistencies”. Alongside phycoremediation, microbial bioremediation is another innovation to be implemented in wastewater clean-up. “Microbial bioremediation utilises microorganisms to naturally break down and degrade soil, water, and air pollutants,” Prof. Oberholster said.

“By leveraging the natural metabolic processes of microorganisms, this method reduces harmful substances to non-toxic, or less toxic forms.” This technique has been implemented and has shown success in cleaning up industrial areas, disaster-stricken areas, as well as wastewater treatment plants. Both methods are successfully being utilised in the Western Cape, Limpopo, and Malawi, and according to Prof. Oberholster, the use of ecological engineering solutions provides transformative opportunities for small to medium-sized wastewater treatment plants in the country.

The CEM’s work is in line with South Africa’s commitment to sustainable development and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, which aims to ensure universal access to clean water and sanitation. Integrating ecological engineering solutions into public sector service delivery efforts will only improve quality of life for South African communities, and protect the country’s precious water resources. “The challenges we face in wastewater management, water security, and preventing cholera outbreaks require innovative solutions that prioritise ecological engineering and sustainability,” explained Prof. Oberholster.

“Through our research and collaboration with local health authorities, we aim to develop preventive measures to combat cholera outbreaks and create a resilient water infrastructure for South Africa,” he concluded

Warren Hawkins