Engineering Students to Help Provide Water to Caribbean Village

TAMPA, Fla (Apr. 3, 2008) - Coming from a place where a cool drink of clear water is generally a short walk to a drinking fountain, water cooler or kitchen sink, it’s easy to forget that many people in the world aren’t so lucky.

“Clean water is something we take for granted here in the United States,” said Daniel Yeh, faculty advisor for the University of South Florida’s Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USF).

“Yet, over one billion people worldwide do not have ready access to safe drinking water, while about three billion do not have adequate sanitation provisions,” said Yeh, who is also a research fellow of the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions. “It is estimated that three to four million individuals, mainly low-income children in developing nations, still die each year from water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid.”

On Apr. 10, EWB-USF will take the first of several trips to the Dominican Republic, in the hopes of giving them what is so easily acquired here in the United States, said Allan Smith, spokesman for the group. The four -day trip will give the engineering students a chance to size up the situation which they have been studying via documents and email over the past few months.

“We have seven people who are going on this particular trip,” Smith said. “This trip is pretty much a technical and cultural assessment of the situation down there, and to hold a town meeting to discuss the issues with the people down there.”

The students will be working in Miramar, a village of 500 in Miches, a city of 21,000 people in the El Seibo province. El Seibo is the second-poorest province in the Dominican Republic. The average worker makes about $1 U.S. each day.

The students are considering three options for providing clean water to the village. The options include: a cistern to collect and store rainwater; digging a well; or building an aqueduct to transport water from a nearby river to the villagers’ homes.

Whichever option is used, the completed project is expected to cost about $50,000, Smith said. The student needs to raise the entire amount on their own. The group is looking to the local Tampa Bay community and beyond for sponsorship to help support this effort. Over the past few months they have been active in fund-raising, including holding a 5k road race in February.

The trip is as much a public relations venture as it is an engineering assessment, Smith said. While there, the students will break up into two groups. One group, the technical group, will evaluate the river and search for data related to whatever specific design they implement.

Meanwhile, the public relations group will be working out a contractual relationship with the people. While not legally binding, the contract will spell out what the students want to do and what the community will do to support their efforts.

After collecting technical data and meeting with the community, the students will return to Florida and spend the next several months designing the details of the solutions for the residents. They will return to Miramar for two to three weeks in August to help build a water system that the community has agreed upon. The entire process is iterative, demand-driven, and emphasizes community participation and ownership. Major partners of this effort include Columbia University, which has provided the introduction and critical support to work with the people of Miches, and the Patel Center, which is offering a field experience this summer to a group of undergraduate students to work on the Miches project in coordination with EWB-USF.

Engineers Without Borders, called EWB for short, is a non-profit, humanitarian engineering organization which works to partner with developing communities worldwide in order to improve the quality of life and promote sustainability.

Students from the one year-old USF chapter will design a water source with the aid of professional engineers from the Tampa area and plan on implementing the project in the summer of 2008.

More about EWB-USF can be found on their website at In addition to engineers, EWB-USF also involves students and faculty from diverse disciplines such as biology, anthropology and public health. In their short history, the EWB-USF members have helped take part in rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and helped design a solar power grid for Tulane University to be installed at Gulu University in Uganda.

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