Mohammed Bah Abbah – The Inventor of The Zeer, A Desert Refrigerator that Does Not Require Electricity.
Across many nations in Africa, the art of pot making has been a long practiced culture. Traditionally earthenware pots were used to keep water cold, used as coffins, banks, for cooking and as wardrobes. With the adoption of new technology, many people abandoned their pots for the modern-time refrigerators, advanced methods of preserving and burying the dead, saving money and storing their clothes.
However, as much as people are quickly adapting new technologies in their lives, most developing countries are still faced with poor electricity penetration. This leads to individual living especially in rural and poor setups unable to employ this new technologies as their more affluent and urban counterparts. However, one Mohammed Bah Abba born in the northern rural areas of Nigeria came up with an ingenious ways of accessing the “refrigerators” which do not require electricity.
Mohammed Bah Abba comes from a long line of pot makers, so from childhood he got a good knowledge of the art of pottery, practical use of pots and their symbolic uses. He further got formal education on biology, geology and chemistry when he attended formal schooling. Equipped with both the scientific and traditional knowledge, Abbah came up with the “pot-in-pot refrigerator” commonly referred to as the “Zeer”. In a nutshell the zeer can be described as an evaporative cooling fridge which unlike the modern fridge that relies on electricity, the zeer relies on a porous outer earthen pot that is lined with wet sand and has an inner pot (glazed to stop water from penetrating through) in which food, water or anything you want to keep cool is stored. The basic idea in operation of the zeer is that when the outer water evaporates, it draws away heat from the inner pot hence making the inner pot loose temperature and keeps it quite cool.
The “architectural” design of the zeer is placing a smaller pot within a larger pot and putting wet sand in between them and a wet cloth at the top. As water evaporates from within the pots the temperature within the smaller inner pot drops significantly thus creating refrigeration effect without needing electricity. To work effectively, it must be in a dry and well ventilated area which allows fast water evaporation on the outside pot. This is a perfect refrigerator that actually uses the adverse desert condition to its advantage. Hence the name “desert refrigerator”. For optimum cooling the humidity of the area has to be low to allow faster water evaporation.
In areas where fresh water is scarce and highly treasured, the inner pot’s inner walls are glazed to make it impermeable, then undrinkable water like seawater can be pour in between the small and big pot in order not to waste any valuable water. To have the pot in operation for an extended period, you can have the pots draw water from a storage container: this could be in form of an inverted jar or you could have the zeer placed in a shallow pool of water.
Mohammed Bah Abbah won the Rolex Laureate recognition back in 2000 for his ingenious idea to provide refrigeration to the rural poor without the need for electricity. This has benefitted rural farmers in the following ways:
- Increased sales profit from produce: farmers no longer have a rush to sell their produce in order to avoid spoilage but can sell when the supply is low and demand is high.
- Increased income for women: traditionally women and girls sell food in the market which they use zeer to carry it to the market. With zeer the food doesn’t go bad easily hence more food to sell.
- Improved diet given that food remains available for longer period of time.
- Gives rural people employment opportunities: from sales of zeers and the increased production profit from farm produce.
- Storage of medicines and vaccines in zeers reduces the cost of setting up medical facilities in rural remote areas.
These are some of the benefits Abbah’s pot-in-pot refrigerator has got to offer. Abbah’s innovation has made refrigeration services easily accessible and cheap even in the most remote and harshest desert region of Northern Nigeria.