You are what you breathe

When was the last time you noticed the air you are breathing ? Do you know how it affects you and your health?

air pollution Egypt

Egypt leads the list of the most polluted cities in the world, in terms of particulate matter. Moreover, according to the latest report by the WHO, every Cairo resident’s daily share of air pollution is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

This motivated the makers from icealex hub in Alexandria Egypt to work on solving this global problem.

Their solution: Build an air quality monitoring kit

afrimakers air pollution kit

The kit uses Arduino, gas, humidity and temperature sensors, RGB LEDs and an LCD screen to detect and measure air pollution. The Afrimakers team wishes to understand and map pollutants in their local environment and identify main pollution sources and best strategies of individual protection.

The idea was inspired by the Air Quality Egg project, which is based on Arduino, allowing anybody on the world to monitor CO2 and NO2 levels around his house, and share the results online, to be compared with the rest of the world records.


What distinguishes the prototype designed by the Afrimakers team from the AirQuality Egg’s, is the reduced cost and the outreach to local schools, communities of makers and learning centers for children. The same components of the kit can be used for many other projects which also reduces the investment for schools.

The team has a detailed documentation for this project and aims to create several learning modules for this project that could be used in schools and video tutorials.

This week, the project developers are visiting the makers in Nairobi and organizing a series of workshops in collaboration with Fablab Nairobi and iHub in order to improve their prototype and reflect about how it can be locally-driven.

If you would like to build your own air pollution monitor you can follow the instructions made by the icealex team. In case you don’t have access to the same sensors or materials we encourage you to “fork” their project here and and adapt it to your local resources.

A main goal of the team and their project is to encourage makers and local communities to dream, make and share meaningful projects that are solving big problems and are extremely affordable.

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Afrimakers is an initiative to empower African makers to develop sustainable projects and provide solution for local challenges by training more than 100 mentors in 10 African countries on running science & tech workshops for private and public schools students.


Bringing smiles to the slums – Jua kali dentistry in Kenya

I got this photograph from someone who had his teeth repaired in Gikomba – the center of Kenya’s Juakali innovation, and another one of Kenya’s slums . The home made gadget looks pretty terrifying but check out the results!

Looks barbaric but check out the results!

Made from brass and modelled on something much more professional, this manual tooth mould (I’m sure there’s a technical name for this gadget) is cheap and brings smiles back to faces.

a tribute to SODIS

Solar water disinfection (SODIS) has been around for quite some time now and with approx. over 340.000 users in Africa alone, this low budget water disinfection “technology” is a smart approach that deserves to be mentioned on AfriGadget.

In areas where piped drinking water just isn’t available or of questionable quality, solar water disinfection is a cheap and effective method for decentralized water treatment as it can be applied at household level. It is a simple method that’s easy to teach and is designed for small scale production.

(source )

SODIS uses solar radiation to destroy pathogenic microorganisms which cause water borne diseases:

Sunlight is treating the contaminated water through two synergetic mechanisms: Radiation in the spectrum of UV-A (wavelength 320-400nm) and increased water temperature. If the water temperature raises above 50°C, the disinfection process is three times faster. (source)

The World Health Organization (WHO) even recommends SODIS as a viable method for household water treatment and safe storage.

All you will need are clean & transparent PET bottles, fill them up with water and expose them to direct sunlight for at least 6 hours . Many people also put them on a corrugated roof (to increase temperature) and saturate the oxygen content inside the bottles prior to the sun treatment by filling them up three quarters, shaking them for 20 seconds with a closed cap on and then fill them up completely.


SODIS may also replace the boiling of water which often requires vast amounts of firewood or other natural resources, so it not only helps people obtain safer drinking water (conventional filter candles are expensive and not always available) but also helps to preserve the local environment.

SODIS obviously can’t substitute really clean drinking water, and it often also requires pre-treatment in case the water turbidity is too high . Users can easily reduce the turbidity though by letting the bottles stand for a while until the particles settle to the ground and then also filter it through a folded cloth.

The best aspect about SODIS though – despite of it’s low budget approach – is that consumers are directly in charge of their drinking water and have a working method that enables them to treat their own drinking water.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) also published a very informative website on SODIS and provides more details about the technology as well as case studies from around the world.

Farming Innovations in a Slum

Kibera from space
Kibera from space

Google Earth is one way to appreciate the crush in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum. Not surprisingly popular images of people living in desperate conditions aren’t far from the truth when it comes to this corner of Nairobi – but out of the madness comes a little hope.

Raw sewage flows above ground
Raw sewage flows above ground

I witnessed some amazing innovations in Kibera and conclude that people have adjusted to their situation and are making the most of it.  Because of the stress associated with limitations on land, energy, water, and food the people have found innovative ways of surviving. This post is mainly about farming.

Vertical farming

like this guy and his vertical garden which feeds his family and he even sells some produce. It’s a variation on what JKE wrote about in the post on Keyhole gardens in Botswana.

Like the key hole garden of Swaziland, this veggie patch serves a family on a tiny piece of land
Like the key hole garden of Swaziland, this veggie patch serves a family on a tiny piece of land

Finding land in rubbish

Now a local organic farming company Green Dreams has been documenting the progress of transforming a garbage dump to an organic farm on the Green Dreams blog. They are working with a local youth group comprising reformed criminals in converting garbage into organic manure, and garbage dumps into organic farms.

Before the clean up and farming
Before the clean up and farming
Clearing land of garbage
Clearing land of garbage
installing irrigation
installing irrigation

Irrigation taps the mains water and supplies nutrient rich feeds from organic fertilizer produced on the site from crops and worms, yes they harvested local earthworms to start vermiculture.

Worm farm
Worm farm – just a tray with kitchen wastes feeds a bunch of earthworms that produce organic liquid manure
Planting seedlings
Planting seedlings, cleared waste is bundled under shade cloth and planted with pumpkin to create a green soil erosion barrier

Check out the planting implements, a PVC Pipe adapted to deliver seeds into a perfectly dug hole!  This was invented to help with the back breaking work of planting.

Kibera organic farm - after 3 months
Garbage dump transformed this is the Kibera organic farm – 3 months after clearing the dump

After 3 months the community of 30 families were harvesting, eating and selling organic produce. Yum! Impossible to ignore how a dirty dump turned green, everyone wants a farm in Kibera now. This group is now selling their expertise to raise funds and help others.

Natural Bean Tenderizer

There was a smouldering fire where banana leaves were being reduced to ash, then the ash dissolved in water and the brown murky astringent solution sold for Ksh 50 ($.80) per 250 ml in vodka bottles! This is a bean tenderizer reducing the time to boil red kidney beans by 50%! Imagine the savings on charcoal/fuel.

Safe Dispensing of Fuel

Kerosene is dispensed from a caged petrol pump for security
Kerosene is dispensed from a caged petrol pump for security

Notice that there was no protection around the farm or it’s equipment. Apparently the reputation of these ‘reformed criminals’ is enough of a deterrent.

Kids in Kibera
Kids in Kibera

Life might be hard in Kibera but yet when you visit you can’t ignore the vibrancy, colorfulness, camaraderie amongst the inhabitants it was one time that I got the feeling that people here love life

The VIP – an invention from Zimbabwe

Ingenuity, obviously, isn’t only limited to the African continent, as it is especially found in societies where access to resources is limited. While we’ve been able to witness lots of interesting innovations from other regions of the world that were born out of a lack of readily available solutions, we must also not forget that a few smart ideas were actually developed in Africa and have since then conquered the world.

One of such smart ideas is the Ventilated (Improved) Pit Latrine, in short: the VIP – which was developed as the “Blair Latrine” by Peter Morgan, who has been living and working in Zimbabwe for over 35 years, researching and developing water and sanitation technologies.

venting a pit latrine
Diagram showing effect of vent pipe on functions of pit latrine (source)

The major advantage of the VIP over a normal pit latrine is that it comes with a ventilation pipe (covered with a durable fly screen on top) which reduces flies and odour. In the absence of other alternatives, the Ventilated Pit Latrine is considered reliable, which explains the success of this technology: over 500.000+ units of this type have been built in Zimbabwe alone and it has proven to work elsewhere around the world.

The VIP clearly isn’t the solution to sustainable sanitation as it comes with a few limitations, but it does function without water and has very low investment, operation and maintenance costs.

Next to some interesting experiments with different water pump systems such as the Blair hand pump (also known as the Zimbabwe Bush Pump) or the spiral water wheel pump, Peter is also active in the field of ecological sanitation and recently published a very interesting booklet titled “Toilets That Make Compost” where he writes about his experiences with compost toilets such as the Arborloo and the Fossa Alterna.

screenshot from Peter Morgan’s manual on how to build an Arborloo (PDF,~ 3,1MB)

While there’s no single sanitation concept that will work in all places around the world, the VIP for one is a proven technology which has been accepted by its users since 30 years.