Thursday July 30, 2009

Safe Water for Another African Village

A civil engineering major and two recent University of Dayton graduates worked with residents in Boa Bakundu, Cameroon, to install a system to deliver safe drinking water to the village of 4,500.

This summer, after a two-month service project by a University of Dayton senior and two recent graduates, the 4,500 residents of an African village have safe drinking water.

The trio — all members of the University's ETHOS program (Engineers in Technical, Humanitarian Opportunities for Service Learning) — worked with village residents to install a gravity-flow pipeline that carries clean water three-quarters of a mile from a catchment basin in a jungle stream to a large water tank residents recently built in the village of Boa Bakundu, Cameroon, said Ben Simcik, a civil engineering major starting his senior year.

The system provides a safe alternative to the water villagers had been taking from local streams contaminated with bacteria from human and animal waste.

Gravity flow systems, Simcik explained, use gravity to move water through a pipe. That eliminates the need for mechanical pumps, which require not only power, but money to buy and maintain. Because both are in short supply in Boa Bakundu, their use would fall outside the definition of "appropriate technology" — systems that consider the social, economic, religious and cultural environment of the people intended to benefit from a project. If a community in a developing nation can't afford, sustain and maintain a system, it's not an appropriate technology, no matter how well-intended, he said.

Using materials, tools and some plumbing services acquired in the nearby city of Kumba, the students worked with the residents to excavate the pipeline's route — 27 inches deep, three-quarters of a mile long; install the pipeline; leak-test the system; and overcome some design flaws in the catchment. Sometimes, they had to work around heavy rains that hampered their progress.

The villagers dedicated and blessed the system July 25. In the coming months, residents will install pipes connecting the water tank to the village's eight sections.

Besides Simcik, the University of Dayton contingent included 2009 civil engineering graduates Mark Ewalt of Maineville, Ohio, and Brian Baker of Baden, Pa.

In 2008, another team of University of Dayton students helped design and build a water transport and biofiltering system in the village of Barombi, about a tenth the size of Boa Bakundu. Ewalt was part of the Barombi project as well.

To read more about the Boa Bakundu project, see Simcik's blog. Read about the 2008 project in Barombi, Cameroon, in the Dayton Engineer.

For more information, contact Meagan Pant, assistant director of news and communications, at 937-229-3256 or