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British Funding Cutback has Shocked Scientists across Africa

For two years, the Rwandan-born scientist Anita Etale has been leading efforts to develop cheap methods to clean contaminated water supplies, a widespread problem in Africa. Based at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa, Etale had a £300,000 grant from Britain’s Royal Society in 2019 to build a team of researchers, who went on to develop cleaning filters using maize and sugarcane stubble. “Finding cheap source materials is crucial to make affordable filters,” Etale said. They published several papers about the technology and were preparing to make prototype filters with a further £450,000 pledged by the Royal Society. But two weeks ago, Etale was told abruptly that all future funding had been cancelled. A host of other researchers working in Africa – on projects aimed at helping the continent battle the climate emergency, develop renewable energy sources and fight biodiversity loss – were also told, without warning, that their promised funding had been cancelled. This was a direct result of Britain’s decision this month to slash overseas aid, leading to a 70% cut in foreign research grants provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and distributed by the Royal Society. One of the first victims was the society’s Future Leaders – African Independent Research (Flair) scheme, which funds scientists like Etale.