The Columbia University chapter of Engineers Without Borders aims to address the problems facing people both locally and overseas by leveraging the skills, talents, and passions of Columbia University students and the sponsorships formed with our organization. Our members are pursuing many different engineering degrees, but all share the desire to do meaningful work and make a difference.
The chapter currently consists of three programs in Ghana, Uganda, and Morocco. The Ghana program, which started in 2004, successfully built a water distribution system and latrines in the farming community of Obadan. It’s now in the process of implementing a similar water distribution system in the nearby village of Amanfrom. Each program draws from the skills of its members to provide technical solutions to worldwide problems.
In 2014, the village of Amanfrom contacted us asking for a water distribution system similar to our past project in Obodan. Amanfrom relied exclusively on seasonal surface water and shallow groundwater from streams, springs and hand-dug wells, all of which failed to meet WHO standards. To address this issue, we drilled and constructed two new wells within the community during our first implementation trip in August 2016. These two new reliable sources of water have greatly increased the water capacity of the community. Our chapter seeks to continue implementation and use these two wells in a gravity-fed water distribution system to bring water to six additional points in the village. Once the water system is firmly in place, the local government will begin collecting small fees for water, which will enable them to save funds for maintenance, repairs and future development projects.
In the winter of 2017, three of our members, accompanied by a mentor, travelled to Amanfrom to assess alternatives for increasing the water supply to the community, as the yield is currently insufficient, and as both wells are located in the southern region, those living in the north continue to rely on contaminated water sources. The team explored the option of drilling additional boreholes in the north and scouted out locations, with valuable input from the community leaders and a local hydrogeologist, who provided great insight into the areas with the best potential yield. They also researched rainwater harvesting techniques that had been successfully implemented in the neighboring community, Nsakye. Our team liaised with the Water and Sanitation Team at the Regional District Assembly and the Amanfrom Elders and Unit Committee in order to develop a plan to increase Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) education in the community and conducted various interviews with community members to better understand their daily water routines and the factors that influence where they collect their water.
Based on the valuable information gathered during this assessment trip, our Water Team is currently performing an alternatives analysis of the various feasible options. They are working closely with our professional mentors in order to conduct an effective cost-benefit analysis of each option, and once a decision is made, they will be developing an extensive technical plan to execute it. The Hardware Team is currently researching how to remotely monitor the level of water in the wells and to engineer a mechanism that will turn the pump on and off accordingly, which would be a vast improvement on the existing system in which the pump operates on a timer. We are hoping to have a successful implementation trip this summer and are currently organizing several fundraising campaigns to finance our expenses.
Our team is also preparing an in-depth education effort in order to teach water, sanitation, and hygiene lessons to the villagers in Amanfrom. We will also be conducting water quality tests to ensure that the water meets WHO standards, and we will also monitor the community’s capacity to independently operate and manage the new water distribution system.
The Ghana program almost immediately began work in Obodan and constructed a Kumasi Ventilated Improved Pit in the village in 2005. After repairing biogas latrines and building a rainwater harvesting system in a nearby village for a few years, the program returned to Obodan. Ghana program members have overseen the successful installation of nine latrines in Obodan and surrounding villages.
Once the design and construction of latrines neared completion, the water project became a major focus of the Ghana program's work beginning around 2011. Assessment teams surveyed the land for data on elevation, conducted many water quality tests around the year, met with local contractors and technicians, and helped the community determine the best way to collect money for when the system needed maintenance. In the summer of 2013, the Ghana program constructed the water distribution system. The system consists of an electric-powered submersible pump, two 10,000 liter storage tanks placed on top of the hill in Obodan, and an extensive framework of pipes to deliver water by gravity to spigots conveniently located around the village. The water, pumped directly from the water table, avoids almost all of the contaminants that pollute surface water or shallow groundwater, and is safe to drink by Ghanaian and WHO standards. The location of the spigots eliminates the need for villagers to cross any road, and drainage ensures that any water is accidentally spilled near the spigots does not flood and contribute to erosion.
As of 2016, the water distribution system is financially sustainable and functioning independently, while the latrines are community owned and operated. The money generated from collecting fees at the water spigots have generated revenue for other community projects in Obodan.