October 13, 2003, Vol. 74, No. 8F
Alum brings her expertise in water treatment to Haitian communities
Growing up in
a small town outside Rochester induced dreams of travel for Sarah Brownell.
From a young age she aspired to do development work abroad. Immediately
after getting her bachelors degree in engineering from the Rochester
Institute of Technology, she set out to work in a health clinic in Haiti.
Because her job
was to put solar panels on the clinics roof, she spent the first
two months of her three-month stay waiting for the solar panels to arrive.
I spent that
time studying the local language and getting acquainted with the culture.
I also noticed how many people came to the clinic complaining of water-related
issues and water-borne illnesses like typhoid, amoebic dysentery, and
parasites. I wanted to do something about it, but my ME training didnt
give me the skills I needed to help with those problems, she says.
While in Haiti,
an engineering professor from Rochester got Brownell interested in a
new system of disinfecting water using ultraviolet (UV) light.
The UV tube, consisting
of a ferroconcrete trough, metal tube, and spigot, is designed to cheaply
disinfect water with ultraviolet radiation. Its ideal for using
in developing countries because its a low-tech and low cost method
for disinfecting batches of drinking water.
However, the manufactured
UV unit came with its own set of problems. The system was prohibitively
expensive for the poor families it served, difficult to ship, and users
didnt know how to fix it when it malfunctioned.
spurred Brownell to apply to Cal to learn more about alternative methods
of water treatment. At Berkeley she worked with the Energy Resources
Group on making this technology affordable and easy to assemble for
local use in Haiti.
The group is testing
an alternative version of the manufactured UV tube in Mexico, where
it only costs $50 to buy the self-assembling parts.
to Haiti this past summer to start the Brainstorming Technology Center.
The center is run by trained local volunteers and is open on market
days. It includes displays of the UV water disinfection system, solar
cooking ovens, generators rigged to bicycles, dry toilets, and other
ecological devices to make life safer and easier for local residents.
deals more with educating people about sanitation and water-borne illnesses
and low-tech methods of treating water and sanitation. The idea is to
inspire local creativity and invention in solving environmental problems,
are three manufactured UV disinfection systems in Haiti that are rigged
as neighborhood systems. Anyone can come to the site and disinfect their
personal supply of drinking water. The goal, says Brownell, is to replace
the few expensive manufactured treatment units with more self-assembled
ones, making the system more accessible and convenient for neighborhood
to return to Haiti in December to continue working on water issues.
Ive been there five times and I feel like I have a home
and community there, she says.
For more on engineering work abroad e-mail the Berkeley Engineers Without Frontiers chapter at email@example.com.