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As Cape Town faces unprecedented level five water shortages and people across the Western Cape get to grips with their stringent allocation of 87 litres of water per day, many across the country are left wondering how South Africa will adapt to increasing water scarcity.

While many people might be resistant to changing their lifestyle, and habits many young people across the country embraced the challenge, exploring innovative solutions to the ongoing drought problems at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists regional finals held between July and September.

The Eskom Expo is the country’s largest school-level science fair and every year thousands of learners from across the country compete at a regional level with the hope of securing a place at the prestigious Eskom Expo for Young Scientists International Science Fair held in Johannesburg.

Established in 1980 the Eskom Expo aims to develop the country’s next generation of problem-solvers and has always encouraged participants to identify problems or challenges in their local community and try and find innovative solutions.

“This year the participants really rose to the challenge and I was delighted to see so many passionate young scientists tackling the issue of drought in South Africa. These learners saw the dire need for clever solutions to the drought that is crippling the Western Cape and other parts of the country and they have put some very innovative ideas on the table,” says Parthy Chetty, Executive Director of the Eskom Expo.

Many of the solutions go far beyond the standard water saving tips and included detailed studies on the question: How well do water restrictions work? They answer questions like: Is it possible to create a home desalination plant? (The answer is yes!) Can we be more water-wise by designing a mechanism that monitors and reduces water flow rate? How can we best prevent water evaporation from dams and swimming pools? Can cover crops save water in agriculture? How can we use greywater systems to the best effect in our homes and gardens?

Some of these solutions looked at ways to reduce water consumption, while the other learners looked at ways to harvest water from alternative sources.

At the Cape Town Regional Eskom Expo, Hussein Semvua and Zainul Africa’s invention, The Green Tap – a greywater system that collects water as it drains from the basin and pumps it to the toilet cistern to flush the toilet – is a clever solution to reduce consumption. “If we can use greywater in our homes, then we can help. We can make a difference,” say these grade 11 boys from Harold Cressy High.

Equally impressive is Luke Smith’s Eco Shower, which not only saves water but electricity too, as it runs off solar panels. Water is filtered and cleaned beneath the shower so that it can be reused – so successfully, in fact, that the only water that is lost is the water left on your skin after the shower.

While a standout project from the West Coast Regional Eskom Expo in Saldanha Bay was a working prototype, entitled ‘Collecting water from homemade mist-catchers’ by Lucreacia Beukes and Nokhanyo Ponoane. The grade 9 leaners from Uitkyk Primary School in Lutzville created a prototype that uses green garden netting and a rough-hewn frame to catch coastal mist and condense it into containers for use around the house, and reduce the burden on the municipal water system.

Lutho Madlulela and Abulele Dlungele, grade 12 learners from Holy Cross Education Centre in Mthatha, were an exceptional duo, receiving the award for the Eskom Expo Best Environmental Project for ‘Power up and Crop up with less water’ at the Mthatha Regional Eskom Expo. Their invention is an underground household hydrobole, which is used to generate clean and affordable electricity, as well as serve as a source of water for crops to minimise the impact of water shortage on crop productions.

The Eskom Expo focuses on cultivating a passion for science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation while developing a pipeline of talented youngsters ready to tackle the country’s biggest challenges.     

“What makes the Eskom Expo so inspiring, is seeing so many young people looking at the things that their communities, and our society at large, need and finding new ways of doing things. We are incubating innovation and that is really exciting to witness first hand,” says Chetty.   

Gold medal winners Lutho Madlulela and Abulele Dlungele, grade 12 learners at Holy Cross Education Centre

Lucreacia Beukes and Nokhanyo Ponoane tackled the issue of drought with an innovative water condensation collection system

Luke Smith - “The Eco Shower” – water is filtered and cleaned beneath the shower so that it can be reused - Rondebosch Boys High - Grade 10-2

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