GCRF - Low cost technologies for safe drinking water in developing regions (SAFEWATER)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Nanotechnology and Adv Materials Inst


At least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is faecally contaminated and thus likely to lead to diarrheal illness: nearly 1,000 children die each day due to water and sanitation-related diarrhoeal diseases. Safe drinking-water is required for all usual domestic purposes, including drinking, food preparation and personal hygiene. Diseases related to the consumption of contaminated drinking-water place a major burden on human health. In 2015 663 million people still lacked access to an improved drinking water source, and these are mostly the poor and marginalized. Almost a quarter of those people rely on surface water which is untreated and over 90% live in rural areas. Many people are forced to rely on sources that are microbiologically unsafe, leading to a higher risk of contracting waterborne diseases, including typhoid, hepatitis A and E, polio and cholera.

This proposal aims to develop and assess low cost technologies for safe drinking water which can help address the significant socioeconomic impact of water borne diseases in developing regions. We will establish a centre which will involve a range of different expertise collaborating with universities in Brazil and Colombia and two not-for-profit organisations from Colombia and Mexico. The objectives are to develop low cost technologies to give clean water to the poor people in rural Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, and to develop devices which can be used to assess drinking water quality in remote regions without access to high tech laboratories. These water technologies will be tested under real conditions with the cooperation of the rural communities. We shall also assess any health benefits in the communities following the use of the technologies to give safe water.

The main benefit of this research will be a reduced incidence of water borne diseases in developing regions. This will result in less illness and fewer deaths for children. This will also lead to improved quality of life for families. Females are normally responsible for water in the home and user-friendly, safe water systems will result in less pressure on females. Reduced illness means that children are more able to attend school and there will be less absence from employment for adults. If local communities can get involved in the manufacture, deployment and/or maintenance of water treatment systems, then this may lead to economic development in the communities.

Planned Impact

At least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is faecally contaminated and thus likely to lead to diarrheal illness; nearly 1,000 children die each day due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrhoeal diseases. The annual global economic burden associated with lack of safe water and sanitation equates to $260. The primary goal of the project is improve health via the provision of safe and affordable household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) in a number of low-income communities in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. In collaboration with experienced field based NGO's, we will develop tools & training and support the deployment of optimised HWTS technology empowering local people to take control and manage the production of safe potable water. We will demonstrate a health impact within the local communities who practice HWTS and in doing so improve the education aspirations of children, reduce the workload on women (who traditionally manage water for the household), and through a capacity building process empower the development of social business to generate and sustain long lasting economic impact. WHO report that for every $1 invested in water and sanitation an economic benefit of $4 is returned through reductions in health care costs and increased productivity from reduced illness.

The project is integrally linked with academic institutions and NGO's currently working with local communities to improve access to safe water and measure the health benefits associated with the implementation of HWTS. The NGO's are experienced, well established and supported in part by local government funds. All are well known and trusted within the communities in which they work, and they all currently promote and demonstrate the value of HWTS. During the preparation of the proposal we have built a strong working relationship with each of the South American partners. Dr Fernandez is a Visiting Professor at the University of Medellin (Colombia). The project Advisory Board has been chosen to include an experienced mix of professionals who have conducted field based trials and we will harness this collective experience to ensure that the tools and practices developed and deployed are understood, accepted and trusted by the local communities, increasing the likelihood of long term use of HWTS and the associated long term impact.

Engagement with our experienced stakeholders and local communities from before the start of the project ensures the co-production of knowledge by identification of issues preventing use of the HWTS and development of solutions to these problems. The impact of the project will be measured over an extended period of time through follow up consultations and surveys, which the NGO's readily conduct as part of their ongoing field based projects. In addition, the smart water quality indicators will feed data to the cloud providing a mechanism by which we can remotely monitor both water quality and user compliance permitting a mechanism to provide support and guidance to our project partners working in the field. The project will create a strong legacy through the development of technology and training literature, videos and online content, all of which will remain with our partner NGO's for continued use. Our Centre at Ulster will seek additional funding to grow the trans-disciplinary research both during and after the completion of the project. We will also join the Global Water Sanitation and Hygiene Cluster (a partnership grouping 32 partners aiming to improve the coordination and the humanitarian response in the WASH sector) to share our knowledge, disseminate the outputs of the project and encourage the adoption of appropriate HWTS in other areas of the world and link with existing research in the sector - UNESCO Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Programme and the EU H2020 WaterSpoutt project.


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