An MIT project that aims to help provide clean drinking water for people in developing countries began with an extraordinary conference whose participants included an MIT engineer, the queen of Nepal, and about 75 illiterate peasant women.
According to UNICEF, some 1.7 billion people worldwide lacked access to clean drinking water in 2000, and waterborne diseases are a major cause of illness and death across much of the developing world. In Nepal alone, some 44,000 children under the age of five die every year from such diseases, said Susan Murcott, a lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and leader of the MIT project.
Now in its third year, the project is part of a CEE graduate course. It includes annual trips to test possible solutions, meet the people who will use them, and collaborate with local partners, including the Environmental and Public Health Organization and several other national and international water agencies and non-governmental organizations. In January 2002, eight MIT students will spend about a month in Nepal, four will go to Haiti, and four to Brazil.
"We dont yet have all the answers, but were moving toward them," Murcott said.
WOMEN AND WATER
In 1998, Murcott (MIT SB 1990, SM) was invited to Nepal for the Second International Women and Water Conference. "Some of the women walked two or three days to attend. Thats how important this was to them," she recalls. Participants included peasant women and the queen.
Murcott quickly understood their interest. Many women in Nepal and other developing countries spend hours every day toting water in vessels that, when full, can weigh some 30 pounds. Further, the sources theyre carrying the water from are often polluted. So the women are also burdened with caring for family membersespecially childrenwho contract water-borne diseases. "This leaves women with little time for education and economic advancement," M
Contact: Elizabeth Thomson, MIT News Office
Massachusetts Institute of Technology