MIT engineer works toward clean water, more

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--An MIT engineer working toward clean drinking water in Nepal describes in a recent issue of the Journal of International Development how people from developed and developing countries can work together to solve key humanitarian problems, ultimately meeting the basic human needs for security, broadly defined.

Such a collaboration "begins with a relationship among partners in the global village, taking into consideration the specific conditions of the local culture, environment and location," said Susan Murcott, a senior lecturer in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).

Murcott has personal experience of a global engineering partnership of this kind--she calls it "co-evolutionary engineering design"-through her work in developing countries.

She and students in MIT's CEE master of engineering program have worked for years with citizens of Nepal and, since 2005, of Ghana, to design, test and distribute inexpensive household water filters that simultaneously remove arsenic and microbial contamination from the available water supply. Murcott notes that some 150 million people worldwide are affected by arsenic-tainted water, while an estimated 1 to 5 billion people worldwide lack access to microbially safe water.

As of December 2006, more than 5,000 such filters are operating across Nepal, serving some 40,000 people. An additional 5,000 filters are slated for sales and distribution in 2007 in Nepal, with further outreach into Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh underway.

"The students and I are trying to make a positive contribution to people's lives and to improve our collective chances of development and security," said Murcott.

With co-evolutionary design, technical designers from developed countries become partners with the user communities, who are experts in their local conditions. With the MIT Nepal Water Project, Murcott points out, "Our team's partners have i

Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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