Testing Water Quality in Tanzania

Testing Water Quality in Tanzania

This blog will document the travels of two Cambridge PhD students working on testing water quality and portable water purification methods in Tanzania. Mike Coto and Hajime Shinohara will be working in the town of Vingunguti, in the Ilala district of the Dar es Salaam Region for 3 weeks in August 2015. They will be undertaken a general assessment of the water quality in the area followed by testing the suitability of various water purification systems. This project is kindly supported by the The Smart Village Initiative

Mike is a PhD student in the department of Materials and Metallurgy. His research interests include novel photocatalytic water purification materials, some of which will be tested in Vingunguti. Hajime Shinohara is a PhD student in the department of Physics. He is a member of the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability. The advisors on this project are Dr Nalin Patel (Winton Programme Manager), Dr Vasant Kumar (Materials Science and Metallurgy) and Dr Lara Allen (Director of the Centre for Global Equality)

Mike and Hajime will be staying and working with members of the Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI) who are undertaking a variety of development projects in Dar es Salaam over the summer (http://cdi.soc.srcf.net/).

A special thank you goes to the I-Teams Development members who advised the researchers on suitable water testing methods for use on the field trip.

Blog 1:

We arrived in Dar es Salaam this weekend, bags brimming with water testing kits, chemicals and computers. The first two days were spent organising our kits and settling in. Today we headed to Vingunguti for the first time to take a look around and asses the general water quality in the area.

On arrival it was obvious the water quality in the area was heavily polluted, with a stream we will call “rubbish river” being the most obvious case.  More of an open sewer/rubbish tip this was a shocking site, especially as children can be commonly seen playing on its banks.


We engaged with some of the local university students in Dar as well, all of who were very keen to help us out and showed great aptitude for learning. We demonstrated some of common water testing methods: biological and chemical.  Here I am showing a local student Jonathon some biological water testing methods using an Oxfam Del Agua kit.


Over the next few days we will be carrying out water testing on local drinking water sources, waste water and industrial pollution in the area, we will keep you posted on the results!


Blog 2:


Today, heading to Vingunguti we passed over a rickety old bridge with some foul smelling blue/green water running below. The water is passing by homes into a pool, in which people are also disposing of their waste. After speaking to some of the local students it turns out this green river is industrial waste from a local soap factory! We ran some tests on the water and unsurprisingly it’s unsafe, with a pH value of over 11. This water poses a real concern as we personally witnessed children washing their buckets in its waters during our testing.

Water testing in other areas has continued over the last few days and we have been further collaborating with some local university students. In the picture below Hajime and Jonathan are carrying out some turbidity testing on “rubbish river”.


This Smart Village project has also been working in parallel with a Cambridge Development Initiative (CDI) project here in Vingunguti. We’d like to hand the rest of this blog post over to CDI to highlight the good work the engineering are doing here:

The CDI engineering team is constructing a simplified sewage network connected to a biogas system in Vingunguti.

 By using this system, organic waste is recycled and converted into biogas which can be used as cooking fuel.

 Martha Stokes (CDI Engineering Team Member):

 Below is a photo of sewage piping being laid, leading down towards the biogas reactor.


Blog 3:

During the last two days we continued researching in the area around the soap factory wastewater. Clearly the water is unsafe, with high levels of chemical pollution and a very alkali pH making the water a real risk to the local community.

Below is a photo of a woman hanging up her washing above a pond of wastewater (she’s standing on stepping stones to avoid touching the water)

woman hanging up her washing above a pond of wastewater

After speaking with the local people it became clear the problem was worse than we initially thought. According to local testimony the wastewater often floods during rainy season and periods of high industrial discharge. The water pours into the houses in the area, causing burns on the local residents legs when they try to bail the water from their homes. The water also passes through into other communities posing a real health issue to a huge number of people.

wastewater pouring down and collecting into a pool next in between people’s homes

Above is a picture of the wastewater pouring down and collecting into a pool next in between people’s homes.

Following these findings we contacted the Guardian newspaper in Tanzania to try and raise awareness around this issue. We were told the government were very aware of the situation and yet nothing had been done, we hoped some media attention might help to move things forward.

wastewater collecting into another pool

Above is a view of the wastewater collecting into another pool around Vingunguti

Two Guardian reporters arrived at Vingunguti today and we showed them around the site, interviewing locals about the issue. We also paid a visit to the local government office, which as it turned out was inside a building originally designed to be a public toilet! – If that doesn’t some up the current state of sanitation in Vingunguti, I don’t know what does! (picture below)

local government office

We hope some media attention and the results we have obtained from testing this unregulated industrial waste will put pressure on the local government to improve the safety of the wastewater passing through the community – only time will tell!

Blog 4:

Over the last week we have continued with our experiments in Vingunguti. After carrying out general assessment of the water in the area (drinking water, fresh water and industrially polluted water). We have now set about trying to purify these water sources using a plethora of techniques including: filtration, flocculation and oxidation – each of these methods has its own set of advantages and limitations and we’ll be putting them to the test.

My own research interests involve the use of photocatalysts for use in water treatment and I’ll be trialling some of the catalysts I synthesise for my PhD here in Vingunguti to determine their suitability for water treatment method in the developing world.

makeshift lab

We’ve been carrying out our experiments in a makeshift lab outside a local residents house. Mr Abdullah who’s involved in the CDI project was kind enough to allow us to use his porch to run our experiments – providing us with some much needed shade (it’s been a hot one this week). In the above photo some photocatalyst powder is being mixed in a sample of contaminated water with sunlight providing the energy input to activate the catalyst and clean the water. Although far from being the most sophisticated set of experiments I hope these results will provide a valuable insight into the potential of photo catalysts as water purifiers.

We’ve also made some new friends (see below) with some local kids taking interest in our work.

local kids


Blog 5:

Well our last week in Tanzania is coming to an end – we’ve been finishing up our water purification experiments and preparing to leave. The trip has been hard work and a lot of fun. The results have also been good, I’m especially happy that my photo catalysts show strong bactericidal properties. We’ll be presenting the findings of our experiments in a full report in time, which we’ll link to.

On my last day in Vingunguti I had the traditional lunch of an omelette with chips (inside) – called chips mayai (chips-in-my-eye). We said farewell to the local residents who have been so friendly to use over the last 3 weeks & tonight we’ll be relaxing with a few beers.

chips mayai

The CDI biogas project is still continuing and progressing well – the hole has been dug for the reactor and will filled in the next day or two – it’ll then start producing biogas right away which the residents can use a cheap fuel source.

CDI biogas project

The trip for me has been a huge eye opener and I plan to do similar work again in the future. We hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and if you’re interested in any of the work we’ve been carrying out please do get in touch. A big thank you also go’s out to all who made the trip possible


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