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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Engineers Without Borders & NASA

Over 1 billion people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. Every eight seconds, a young child dies from lack of water or a waterborne disease. That's the same as a 747 jetliner full of kids going down every hour. Clean water is so unusual that some people have to acquire a taste for it.

At the Seabrook (TX) Rotary breakfast last week I heard how High-tech NASA has some engineers volunteering to bring clean water to people who have only dirty water available, using low-tech technology and local materials. But the system does rely on a single high-tech part – one UV bulb.

And it works. It’s called “Bring Your Own Water.” It’s ingenious. Using local materials like gravel and sand, they went to a village in Rwanda and built a short PVC line from a water source, which runs through two boxes that they fill with gravel and sand. They attach to it a small metal box with small switches and a UV bulb – which kills any organisms in the water that survived the filtering. The UV bulb runs off a small solar panel – no electricity required. The result: clean water.

They did another project in a small village in Mexico that had only polluted surface water sources. It had salt water underground – but the engineers say removing salt requires much more equipment than the local economy could handle. It’s easier to clean dirty water than remove salt. In Mexico, they had electricity and higher needs, so a small pump was installed. The villagers formed an association, elected a leader and spread the cost among the entire village. Until they had clean water, kids were getting sick twice a week and adults were sick constantly.

One surprise: After drinking dirty water, some people have to “acquire” a taste for clean water. Villagers did not like the bottled water that came from the store. Yet they did like the taste of filtered water. The NASA engineer said that in Rwanda, the water system meant that the girls could go to school instead of carrying water all day. Yet, due to the poverty, they had less community interest –since each family is trying to find enough food to eat daily -- than in Mexico where there is more money.

“Engineers Without Borders” is doing great things to make the world a better place. Their work puts a human face on Americans and enhances our image in these forgotten places. We need more people doing the same.

Thank you NASA and engineers everywhere who are volunteering to bring appropriate technology solutions to the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice to read something that isn't just a criticism of NASA!