MIT Students Study Clean Water Options

February 2007

MIT Students Study Clean Water Options around Volcanoes National Park

This month, three students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kelly Doyle, Christiane Zoghbi and Daria Cresti, visited Rwanda in collaboration with DFGFI's Ecosystem Health Program to investigate appropriate solutions to improve access to drinking water for the community of Bisate. The students are pursuing Master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering. Bisate is the area close to Volcanoes National Park and is where our Karisoke Research Center field operations are based. Many of our staff and their families live in this area.

Despite abundant rainfall in the region, access to drinking water remains a critical issue for the local communities living close to the national park. The volcanic nature of the region results in the rain water quickly draining away from the area and reappearing in streams and rivers at the base of the volcanoes, far from the local communities. As a result, particularly during the two dry seasons each year, people are left with no option except to enter the park to look for water sources. This poses a risk to wildlife from potential disease cross transmission and an extra burden for the local households, particularly impacting the lives of women and children, reducing time available for school and work.

The work of the three MIT students included assessing the feasibility of community rainwater harvesting, family collection ponds and tanks, and ground-water modeling as possible options to improve access to drinking water. During their work they also evaluated water quality in the current water sources and storage facility, including: pH, total suspended solids, conductivity and basic coliform counting. Preliminary results suggest that rain water harvesting at both the household and community level are feasible options for the community, but their findings also showed that most of the rain water tanks and some of the existing ponds were contaminated by coliform and E.coli, indicating that hygiene education should be a central component of any rural water supply program. Before leaving the country the students presented their preliminary results to the staff of Karisoke Research Center, The National Parks Authorities and the District Health Authorities, and other organizations working to supply water to these remote rural areas by Volcanoes National Park. We all look forward to reading the results of the students’ theses in July.

The first phase of DFGFI's clean water and sewer project is expected to cost $150,000. DFGFI donor Nick and Cheri Faust have donated $75,000 to seed the project and MIT is providing technical assistance, but more donations are needed to continue the project.