Bringing Clean Water to a Farming Community in Bolivia

Even in this day and age, clean drinking water is still troublingly scarce in many parts of the developing world. It is a commodity that can come at a high cost. Without the proper infrastructure to rid unhealthy water of bacteria, illness can be widespread among people and farm animals.

A group from Fairfield University’s School of Engineering is fixing that problem in a rural farming community in Bolivia. In August, Bruce W. Berdanier, Ph.D., the new dean of the school, and two undergraduates travelled to Carmen Pampa, where they worked on a water treatment system at the Unidad Academica Campesina (UAC), “the united college for the peasants.” A branch university of the Catholic University in Bolivia, the institution draws from 19 villages, offering programs in nursing, veterinary science, agriculture and teaching. The trip involved modifying a chlorinator, a device that destroys parasites and bacteria in drinking water that can lead to disease.

“I think that a major part of what engineers do is to provide a service,” said Dr. Berdanier, who has extensive experience in international service learning initiatives. “They see a problem and collaborate to fix it with their skills and knowledge.”

Dr. Berdanier helped install the chlorinator last year on the UAC upper campus with a student chapter of ‘Engineers Without Borders’ from South Dakota State University, where he was professor and department head of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The South Dakota and Fairfield students collaborated on this most recent phase of the service project. Thanks to the equipment, the drinking water there now meets World Health Organization (WHO) standards for developing countries.

“What we did makes maintaining the chlorinator easier for the students,” said Katherine Pitz, who worked on the project with another Fairfield mechanical engineering major, Sean McGuinness. “We spent a lot of time surveying the land to build two more chlorinators on two different water systems that supply water to the lower campus.”

Water chlorination is greatly needed. According to UNICEF, 768 million people don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water, and unclean water can be deadly. 

In Carmen Pampa, many in the area have been afflicted with stomach distress due to the poor drinking water quality. In less than 20 years, the university went from just 53 students to 700 students. Due to this expansive growth, UAC has had challenges in adequate potable water systems for its two campuses. The fulfillment of this service project will provide the university with consistent potable water, while eliminating problems with student illnesses. It will also provide an answer to wastewater management, protecting down-stream communities from the waste generated by the university.

“A local doctor said on the recent trip that the chlorinator has helped reduce bacterial infections,” said Dr. Berdanier. “We were quite pleased to hear that.”

Feedback from the UAC community was also promising, with fifty-three percent of the people surveyed noting their health has improved since the chlorinator was installed. More trips to the school are in the works. The ultimate goal of the endeavor is to upgrade the water supply on campus so it meets United States drinking water standards. 

Last modified: Thu, 05 Sep 2013 11:00:51 EDT