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Water Today Title April 19, 2024

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Feature

Update 2023/4/20
UN Innovators



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Renewable Water Source For Arid Regions

UN Top Innovator, Kenyan start-up Majik Water brings safe water to drought-stricken communities with air-to-water technology


By Suzanne Forcese

“We know that climate change means drought will become increasingly severe. Our vision in building Majik Water is to avoid the worst effects of drought by offering a new reliable source of water from the air.”--Beth Koigi, CEO & Founder, Majik Water



Water scarcity exacerbates inequality. In rural areas, this can mean children miss school because they have become severely ill from contaminated water – water that they have walked miles to find. In Kenya, children at Ark Children's Home hold water bottles filled with water from an air-to-water generator. The unit uses solar thermal energy and sponge-like desiccant materials in a low-cost efficient manner.

Interview with Beth Koigi, CEO & Co-Founder of Majik Water

WT: Beth, your start-up is producing water “like majik”. Please give us an overview of your company.

Koigi: “Maji” means “water” in Swahili, while “K” stands for “kuvuna” which means “harvesting”. Therefore, Majik Water means water harvesting.

Majik Water is a Kenyan social enterprise working with communities in arid and semi-arid regions to access clean drinking water using air-to-water technologies.

WT: You are one of three women who founded Majik Water. What was the impetus that propelled you forward in establishing your social enterprise?

Koigi: My own journey began with starting a water filtration company that distributed over 5,000 filters to low-income households around Kenya.

WT: The other co-founders include a Canadian Trent University graduate and an Oxford University graduate. What brought you together?

Koigi: Majik Water was founded by three women from three different continents! We met in Silicon Valley at Singularity University and were drawn together by a shared vision of a world where every person has access to clean drinking water.

Clare Sewell is our COO and an Oxford-trained finance and strategy expert with over 10 years of consulting experience in London and Malawi. Anastasia Kaschenko is our CTO and an environmental scientist with AWG products and R&D experience on a Water Abundance XPRIZE team.

WT: Recently you were a participant at the UN Water Conference as one of the Top Innovators, plus you have received numerous awards, including recognition by WEFORUM as a leading aquapreneur. What has this global recognition meant for you?

Koigi: We have been incredibly lucky to receive a lot of positive recognition, and this has given us validation and energy to pursue our dream. We believe that it is possible to live in a world where access to basic needs is not an issue.

WT: Please describe the Majik Water technology.

Koigi: Majik Water offers a turnkey solution. Our key product is the solar-powered Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG) system. The AWG devices use proven condensation-based techniques optimized to capture water moisture from the air.

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Majik Water machines range from 20L to 1000L of water production per day, scaling to produce up to 100,000 L per day.

WT: What are the issues surrounding clean drinking water in Kenya?

Koigi: Kenya faces significant challenges in providing clean water to its population. While progress has been made in recent years, there are still several obstacles to overcome.

Key challenges include:

  • Limited Access: Approximately 41% of the population lacks access to clean and safe drinking water sources. Many rural areas and informal settlements suffer from inadequate infrastructure, resulting in limited availability and accessibility of clean water.
  • Waterborne Diseases: Cholera, typhoid, and diarrhea, are prevalent due to contaminated water sources. Around 50% of hospital admissions in Kenya are attributed to water-related illnesses, causing significant health burdens and economic losses.
  • Unequal Distribution: The distribution of clean water resources is uneven across the country, with disparities between urban and rural areas. While urban areas receive better water supply, rural communities often must rely on unprotected sources, such as rivers and ponds, leading to increased health risks.
  • Climate Change impact: Kenya's water resources are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including droughts and erratic rainfall patterns. Kenya is 80% arid or semi-arid. This leads to water scarcity affecting agricultural productivity and livelihoods. Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced one of its worst droughts in history, lasting over 3 years. This meant that most of our water sources dried up leaving most communities that we work in dependent on relief food and water. The drought has affected more than 50% of Kenyans.
  • Ageing Infrastructure: The water supply infrastructure in many parts of Kenya is outdated, poorly maintained, and insufficient to meet growing demands. Leakages, system failures, and inadequate storage capacity contribute to water losses and unreliable supply.
  • Affordability: The cost of accessing clean water can be high for many Kenyan households, particularly those living in poverty. Approximately 26% of the population spends more than 5% of their income on water, making it unaffordable for some and forcing them to rely on cheaper, unsafe alternatives.

WT: Water issues are a global concern. Our viewers in Canada, the United States, and Mexico are also faced with the reality of water scarcity. Why is your solution a breakthrough?

Koigi: Atmospheric Water Generators (AWG) is a technology that taps into one of the largest freshwater resources -- air. There is 6 times more water in the atmosphere than there is in all the rivers around the world. Atmospheric water generators have the potential to alleviate freshwater scarcity in several ways:

  • Independent Water Source: AWGs can extract moisture from the air and convert it into usable water, providing an independent water source that is not reliant on traditional water supply systems. This is particularly beneficial in areas with limited access to freshwater resources or where existing water sources are contaminated or unreliable.
  • Water Production in Remote Areas: AWGs can be deployed in remote and underserved areas where establishing a traditional water infrastructure is challenging and costly. They can provide a decentralized and localized solution, reducing the need for long-distance water transportation and distribution
  • Climate Resilience: AWGs are not dependent on rainfall or surface water sources, making them more resilient to climate variability and drought conditions. They can continue to produce water even in arid and semi-arid regions, where traditional water sources may become scarce or unreliable.
  • Water Quality: Atmospheric moisture is typically purer than many surface water sources, which often require extensive treatment to meet drinking water standards. AWGs can produce high-quality water, reducing the risks of waterborne diseases and improving overall water safety.
  • Disaster Relief: AWGs can play a vital role in emergency situations and disaster relief efforts. They can quickly provide clean drinking water in areas affected by natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods, where conventional water supply systems may be disrupted or contaminated.
  • Water Conservation: By utilizing atmospheric moisture, AWGs promote water conservation by minimizing the reliance on groundwater or surface water sources. This can help reduce the strain on existing water resources and contribute to sustainable water management practices.

It is important to note that while AWGs offer potential solutions, they also have limitations. Their efficiency is influenced by factors such as humidity levels, energy requirements, and maintenance needs. Additionally, the cost of implementing and operating AWGs may be a barrier to widespread adoption, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas. 

Nonetheless, with advancements in technology and increased accessibility, AWGs can complement existing water sources and contribute to addressing freshwater scarcity challenges.

WT: What have been your milestones to date?

Koigi: Majik Water has worked with local and international organizations for deployments. To date, we have installed 37 small-scale and large-scale devices which are cumulatively producing over 200,000L per month with over 2100 direct beneficiaries. We install our devices in schools, hospitals, and community centres.

WT: Moving forward...what’s next?

Koigi: We are currently exploring other uses of AWGs such as hydroponics farming and creating water kiosks run by local micropreneurs with pilots underway. We are also looking to partner with local governments in some of their activities to provide clean drinking water in their counties.

We are on a mission to make a difference and transform the lives of communities in need.

By leveraging the potential of these AWG solutions, we are bringing hope and transforming the way water is accessed, distributed, and utilized.

But our impact extends beyond the tangible solutions we provide. We strive to create a ripple effect of change by raising awareness, fostering education, and empowering communities to become stewards of their own water resources. We believe that by working hand in hand, we can create a future where fresh drinking water is not just a luxury but a right enjoyed by all.

Clean water is not just a dream – it is a reality we are determined to create.





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