We need to recruit an army of microbes to help fight our sewage strife

For a long time, we have bemoaned the lack of a central sewage system in our towns, especially our rapidly expanding Kigali. We are panicky because it can mean a lot of things, all of them unpleasant.

For a long time, we have bemoaned the lack of a central sewage system in our towns, especially our rapidly expanding Kigali. We are panicky because it can mean a lot of things, all of them unpleasant.

As an example, if our heavily populated towns were to be seized in a large-scale seismic tremor, (God forbid) we’d be consumed in a monstrous mass of morass. That’d bid bye to most, if not all, urbanites of this country.

Having stared death in the face once, we wouldn’t want to test our luck again.

But then, it’s not us urbanites threatened alone; our brothers and sisters in the countryside, too. Our country being overpopulated, our people in all villages are equally at peril.

Because, like us, whatever they discharge goes in some sceptic tank, pit or is thrown about all around, in places not far apart. Combined, all these discharges poison our food, our water supply, our rivers – our land generally – when not treated. If treatment of all waste is still problematic for even elite countries, imagine what it means for us in the third world.

Well, sweat no longer!

Soon, we may see a silver lining at the end of this tunnel. If the latest developments are anything to go by, and if they can be perfected in good time, we might be pleasantly surprised by finding ourselves sitting on a gold mine instead of a powder keg, in a not-too-distant future.

News has it that scientists are working around the clock, figuring out how to turn all our unwanted and unclean throw-away into energy.

And, what do you know! The foot soldiers to light our days are the bacteria.

Those pests that have preyed on us since the days of Adam may soon turn into our salvation!

Listen to this from a BBC dispatch: “Researchers at the University of the West of England have created compact, living power stations known as microbial fuel that can turn pee into power.” The cells “contain bacteria, which grow on electrodes and feed on the organic matter in the pee that flows past them, producing a current of electrodes”.

That, if you ask me, is a double barrelled attack on a problem for many in this country.

You know how doctors have always urged us to take in lots of water, as it’s good for our health. But apart from the fact of many hating anything that’s neither tasty (sugary beverages) nor sharp to the tongue (alcoholic drinks), there are those averse to the advice on account of its influence in increasing the urge to frequently answer the short call of nature.

When all these come to know that it’s for a good cause, they might take to water faster than fish. Then, to their liquid discharge will be added the waste water that goes down the drain to give us a sizeable amount of energy generation.

And that’s not all. As there is liquid waste, so is there solid.

Which is how all those aforementioned sceptic tanks and pits will become our ‘unclean sludge’ gold, when they start generating clean energy. All things answering to dirt will turn clean, an answer to Rwanda’s quest for total cleanliness everywhere.

The BBC dispatch again: “Ieropoulos [a scientist] is working with researchers in the United States........who are developing techniques to turn solid [human waste] into sludge that can flow through the fuel cells.” The sludge is “much more enriched and so the microbes can generate more power.”

To all the above, add biogas and biodiesel that are all too familiar to us. Much as production of the latter was toyed with and then shelved, the former has been put to good use in prisons and schools, without forgetting individual rural homes that are subsidized by government.

What it all boils down to is that since we, as a country, have had the nerve to tread where others dared not, we should go the whole hog.

If we are rendering Lake Kivu harmless by extracting dangerous methane gas and turning it into clean energy, a feat that powerful countries seem to be only now trying, what is impossible about putting all our dirt in towns and villages to good, clean use?

All the unwanted dirt around us plus all the grease, oil and fat near and far can be an added answer to our continued search for enough energy to power our development.

The energy from waste may be a minuscule addition to our eager pursuit of energy expansion. But, as they say where I hail from, the only negative expansion is scrotal elephantiasis – that horrible disease that makes a mountain out of innocuous balls (get my drift?)

Our whole leadership once talked of soon embarking on building sewerage infrastructure but has since kept mum. Could it have occurred to them that there was a rescue army in waiting?

Knowing their knack for spotting out the unforeseen, I wouldn’t put it beyond them.

butapa@gmail.com

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.

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