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OSU Global Water Institute lending a hand in Tanzania

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Tyler Pica, a 2015 Ohio State graduate in civil engineering, fist-bumps with a Tanzanian child during an August 2015 visit to several rural Tanzanian villages as part of an engineering capstone trip co-sponsored by the Global Water Institute. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Hagenberger

Tyler Pica, a 2015 Ohio State graduate in civil engineering, fist-bumps with a Tanzanian child during an August 2015 visit to several rural Tanzanian villages as part of an engineering capstone trip co-sponsored by the Global Water Institute. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Hagenberger

The Global Water Institute at Ohio State began as an initiative in 2014 and has been engaging in large-scale interdisciplinary research activities on water issues ever since. One of its programs is the WE3 Program for Tanzania — Water, Energy, Education and Economic Development.

The GWI is trying to build a comprehensive village water system through the WE3 Program. The goal is to improve the health and well-being of people in local villages, said Martin Kress, the interim director of the GWI. They not only teach techniques, but also help develop a sustainable water system by guiding local people to embrace and see the value in creating a water system.

Kress said statistics show 50 percent of people in Tanzania lack access to clean water and 76 percent have no electrical power. There are about 70,000 wells in the country, he said.

Kress added that in some villages that the GWI went to, water has not come from the wells for 10 years.

“In the past, people would give the village a pump, and the pump would always break in three months,” Kress said. “Because it was the wrong pump and the wrong design. There was no supply chain. No one has been trained to operate it and maintain it.”

So the GWI team tried to look at all the dimensions of the problem in order to design the solution, Kress said.

Members of the GWI first researched how much water there was and how they could optimize those resources, including irrigated water, rainwater and trench water, Kress said. They assessed the conditions of the wells, the water quality, the pump rates and which crops grow best based on the availability of water and the nutritional level.

To improve water and sanitation facilities, renewable energy pumps were set up in the villages, Kress said, and the people got trained to use them.

Moreover, the GWI created a franchising store in Africa that could provide the model for water services, including training personnel on how to use the equipment in order to guarantee the continuous supply of water in these villages.

Kress said that OSU also signed an agreement with the University of Dodoma, which is located in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, stating that OSU would help them create water, food and energy, and retrofit clinics in the school.

“That’s what makes the GWI different,” Kress said. “Everyone loves solving the problems. But when you look at that problem, you’re probably not determining all the real causes and facts. So in fixing it, you may create a new problem. You only solve the problem for a short period.”

 

When Kress first came to OSU two years ago, he estimated that there were about 250 to 300 faculty members working in water-related areas, but most of them did not know each other.

Kress said what he did was create an advisory board with experts from eight different colleges at OSU. It brings strength to have people understand the value of collaborating, as well as interdisciplinary research, he said.

The project in Tanzania also stimulates research and expands the capacity of OSU, Kress said. The GWI has sent a capstone group of senior students from the College of Engineering to support the activities there.

“We have two more teams going now,” Kress said. “These students travel with faculty members, and they do real-world projects for us, and they love it.”

The GWI works with other programs as well. A global health program at the College of Medicine also plans to send people to Dodoma. The students plan to train the nursing students at the University of Dodoma and go out to rural areas to provide health care.

In order to spread information from OSU to external partners, the GWI also launched its own website.

“You can’t get your message out if you don’t have some basic communication infrastructure,” said Maureen Langlois, the communications and networking manager of the GWI. “We were just really lucky to have our graphics and web team to be able to launch a really cool website.”

A couple years ago, one United Nations resolution that was unanimously passed said that it is a basic human right for all people to have access to clean water and sanitation. Kress said that what the GWI is doing is definitely a challenge, but it is a good challenge.

“We say we’re a neutral technology integrator, both at OSU and with anybody else,” Kress said. “And we do have the capacity to solve some of the problems with the evolution of handheld devices and communications.

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