Water Challenge

To win £ 11,000,000 in the lottery, it will cost you £ 2:00 and your chances are vanishingly small. To win £ 10,000,000 to help resolve your chosen problem will cost you nothing except passionate involvement and some of your time. Don’t waste your cash on the lottery – choose which problem needs solving and suggest how it might be accomplished. Why not give it a go ?



Secondary school and university in Cape Town, South Africa


BSc Civil Eng., FICE, FRSTMH

Work History:

Central-southern Africa; near east; middle east; far east

Current Job:

Retired. I was a watsan engineer with UNICEF, then 15 years in disaster response


UNICEF for +/- 30 years and latterly, freelance

My work and the challenge

The provision of adequate fresh water affects every person on the planet, and we don’t have enough of it.

Being a humanitarian worker is increasingly feeling like putting sticking plasters on deep cuts – it might stem the flow a little but is no long-term solution.

We need the thinking of how we can produce quite large quantities of domestic water supplies with the minimum of energy – and use the Longitude Prize money (and other resources) to fund start-up groups to develop the method even further.  Perhaps another prize should be offered to the start-up groups who make the most innovative solutions.

If I won the £10,000,000 I'd spend it on...

Funding start-up groups to compete with each other for the best solution

Looking at the amount of money that is spent on fresh water supplies globally, discussing what to do with a “mere” £ 10,000,000 may not be entirely relevant except insofar as being seed money to trigger much bigger investments in successful technologies.  Thus the £ 10,000,000 must be focussed on improving the most promising approach(es)

It is submitted that while the needs for other zones may appear as pressing as for water, the sheer magnitude of the need affecting everyone on the planet, is most compelling.

My Interview

Other stuff


I am a retired public health engineer who worked for UNICEF for more years than I care to remember.  Principal amongst our objectives was to provide safe drinking water to communities.  While our staff were responsible for a number of innovative handpump designs, and very efficient design arrangements for piped water systems, we have always known that the overall fresh water resource is limited while demand is spiralling ever higher.

It is clear that with climate change and population growth that conflicts will become more frequent where water is scarce.  It is thus appropriate that the Water Challenge should focus on ways and means to increase the overall fresh water resource.

Successful engineers (like Brunel) are often credited with lateral thinking.  For this challenge, we need lots of lateral thinking.

My challenge

My challenge is not only to “create” greatly increased fresh water supplies, but to do it in a way in which it will not compromise the planet.  While we can use reverse osmosis to produce fresh water, the power required is currently prodigious.  Strides in development of plastic films indicate that a more efficient membrane can be developed which requires much less power per unit of fresh water produced.  Is there some different way to strip the pollutants out of sea/brack water which would use even less power – particularly if that power could be produced renewably ?

If sea water is to be used to provide the fresh water, what can be done with the salt ?  Where to dispose of the salt to ensure we don’t damage wildlife ?  What volumes of salt are involved ? Are there uses to which the salt can be put ?


Which challenge would you vote for if not your own

Anti-antibiotics.  In fact, the research that appears to be essential may be a different approach to disease management since one of the biggest problems the medical profession faces today is resistance to antibiotics.  Stem-cell therapies ?

Longitude Prize Guide from the BBC - click the image