The Maasai of Eastern Africa are a nomadic tribe of cattle-herders who rely on access to dependable water sources to survive. However, the Maasai, like many residents of the Third World, are facing a growing global problem – a lack of safe drinking water. More than 8,000 miles away, a small group of students from the University of Idaho is trying to make a difference.
Five UI students departed to Nairobi, Kenya, on Thursday to begin testing months’ worth of work of designing and redesigning methods of water filtration and storage. For the past six months, the students, along with seven others, worked on the project for the Maasai people. The projects, Clearwater-Aid and H2Oasis, are a part of a senior engineering requirement at UI.
“The basic idea is to remove what’s hazardous in the water so it’s fit for human consumption,” said Donald Elger, a UI mechanical engineering professor and adviser for Clearwater-Aid and H2Oasis. According to a report by the United Nation’s Global Environmental Monitoring System, 5 million people, mostly children and infants, die annually from water-borne diseases.
The two teams will test a variety of water treatment methods in Kenya, all of which the students engineered from conception to design.
The Clearwater-Aid project is in its second phase. This year’s team expanded on previous designs that were tested in Kenya during the project’s first phase in February 2006.
The purpose of the new prototypes is to reduce turbidity, or muddiness, in the water and remove the harmful biological material that can lead to illness.
The designs use modern technology and local native materials to make the filters portable and easy to use for the nomadic Maasai tribe.
In one prototype the team uses a car battery to power ultraviolet lights to remove biological agents in the water.
Another design uses layers of sand to kill harmful bacteria in water that seeps through it. The Maasai will be able to install these sand filters into gourds – a fruit available locally – to make portable filters.
The team also uses a local Maasai resource that is not made, but grown. Seeds from the plentiful Moringa oleifera tree cause a natural charge that kills bacteria in water, Contreras said. The Maasai can use the seeds to help purify drinking water.