Category: Engineering Projects

ESF Grand Challenges Scholars Program scholar, Elliott Carlson, presents their talent competency on project experience in Marichaj, Guatemala.  They explain how a research perspective helps advance engineering solutions to pressing problems affecting sustainability.  Project partners include non-profit organization Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and research supervisor, Swiatoslav Kaczmar PE.  The Grand Challenge addressed in this competency is Provide Access to Clean Water. The project report is online here.

The EWB student chapter at ESF was tasked with designing a water distribution system for a rural community in the highlands of Guatemala.  Due to both the unique physical and atmospheric conditions of the area, the community experienced multiple months of no rain, commonly referred to as the dry season. During this period of the year, the community was required to walk roughly 5 kilometers in order to reach their water source.  During the wet season, the community used rainwater catchment systems, installed on each dwelling, to collect water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking (Figure 1).  Our team worked closely with community members and non-profit organizations in order to determine the best solution to the problem.  Our goal was to provide water to the community during the 3-4 months of the dry season.

Figure 1. Example of rainwater catchment system installed on a home in the Marichaj community

At the start of the project, a team of five students and one mentor traveled to meet the community members and collect much needed information for the design.  This included collecting GPS data points, conducting community surveys, and getting a general idea of problem.  During our trip, the community showed us a stream that they were hoping to use as the source of water.  This stream was fed by a spring higher up in the mountains and would be ideal starting point for the water pipeline.  The group hiked the route of the proposed pipeline: down the stream, across a valley, and back up to the community (Figure 2).  Any engineering design takes into account all possible alternatives.  Therefore, the team developed plans to investigate three alternatives: the spring, groundwater, and expansion of the current rainwater system.

Figure 2. Elliott Carlson (bottom right), EWB team, and community members at the source of the spring

Upon returning from the assessment trip, the student team broke up into three groups to explore the three alternatives.  My group was tasked with expanding the rainwater catchment system.  This method of water collection was familiar to the community members.  This method would require an increase in catchment surface area, installation of water storage, and the development of a disinfection method.  In order to provide during the dry season, roughly 2 million liters of water would need to be collected and stored during the wet season.  This number was calculated using the community size of 500 people, the average dry season length of 100 days, and the United Nations per capita water demand of 30 liters.  Additionally, a factor of safety of 30 percent was added to account for variability and community population increase.

The catchment area under consideration that would provide for the calculated demand were the roofs of the community’s school and church.  The school’s roof was measured to be 2500 square feet and the church 1200 square feet.  This would provide a total area of 3700 square feet of additional rainwater catchment surface area.  Using both the volume required and the available square feet, it was determine that 19 feet of rainfall would need to fall during the wet season in order to provide for the dry season.  Unfortunately, the average annual rainfall was found to be roughly 7.5 feet using information gathered from TRMM rainfall data.  With this being the case, the rainfall catchment area would need to be larger than what was available in the community.  The rainwater catchment and storage alternative did not seem to be the best option.  However, it was not eliminated due to the potential for it to be paired with another alternative.  The rainwater catchment system did indeed meet the design goal of providing the community with additional water.  However, the rainwater catchment design alone would not suffice.  This design could be paired with a piping system that distributed water from a nearby spring.  Alternatively, the rainwater catchment system could be paired with a system that pumps from a nearby groundwater source.  An investigation into nearby springs and groundwater sources would need to be further developed in order to determine the best alternative or combination of alternatives.

Our ESF Club, Engineers without Borders, is collaborating with the Syracuse Professional Chapter of EWB on sanitation projects for a primary school in Las Majadas, Nicaragua, near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. The EWB project is part of the Healthy Schools Program in the Palajunoj Valley managed by Primeros Pasos, a Guatemalan non-profit dedicated to holistic approaches for improving health care. When the Primeros Pasos program provided free medical examinations for nearly 1000 children in the Palajunoj Valley, they discovered many children suffered from gastrointestinal parasites and the associated problems of malnutrition and diarrheal diseases. To combat these problems, Primeros Pasos developed a holistic plan that involves health education workshops and training to school staff, teachers, children, and their parents to reduce the incidence of gastrointestinal parasites and enable the community to achieve the health and well-being needed to engage in learning and working and living. This January 2016 our ERE students will join the team in Guatemala!

Palajunoj Valley, south of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and site of the EWB sanitation project at the Las Majadas primary school.

Palajunoj Valley, south of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and site of the EWB sanitation project at the Las Majadas primary school.

Below we post a project description from the EWB website:

“Our mission, as the Syracuse Professional Chapter, is to plan, evaluate, construct, and maintain the latrines at the Las Majadas school, in addition to constructing additional handwashing stations. The Chapter will act on its vision to improve the quality of life for Guatemalan rural communities through access to adequate sanitation, integrated health education programs, and access to medical services. Improving the school’s infrastructure will encourage students to practice hygienic habits in school, reducing their risk of contracting parasites. The Chapter hopes to meet the needs of the community and empower the people with knowledge and skills by emphasizing community training during construction.

EWB Members in Las Majadas, Guatemala.

EWB Members in Las Majadas, Guatemala.

We visited the region and six schools in the Palajunoj Valley in October 2013, and we returned from a second trip in May 2014. The purpose of the second trip was to finalize the Project Partnership Agreement with the community and to collect the remaining technical information needed to move on to the design phase.  The travelers took measurements to map the layout of the school and photographs to document site conditions.  Specific technical tasks completed included further inventorying of the school’s infrastructure, characterizing soil, conducting soil percolation tests, projecting latrine usage, investigating local building regulations, documenting specific materials costs, and mapping out alternative routes for site material delivery.

Children of the Las Majadas, Guatemala primary school.

Children of the Las Majadas, Guatemala primary school.

The existing latrines at the Las Majadas primary school were constructed in a piecemeal fashion, with latrines added when previous ones failed. The school has been unable to provide an adequate number of latrines and handwashing stations for its students. Maintenance has also been a major barrier, as the current unimproved pit latrines provide no ability for reuse. Improved designs will allow the community to maintain these new latrines far into the future.

Currently we are working on developing our Alternatives Analysis Report for installing latrines at Las Majadas. We are comparing ventilated pit latrines, composting latrines, pour flush toilets or a hybrid of the a ventilated pit latrine and composting latrine. Our goal is for project implementation and construction to occur in August 2015. If you’d like to travel and help with construction, we need your regular participation at meetings.

The Las Majadas community supports our work in their community and eagerly anticipates our design.  We are partnered with the local school director, a teacher, interested parents, Primeros Pasos (an NGO operating in the Palajunoj Valley), and a Peace Corps Volunteer in the area.”

ERE professor Dr. Wendong Tao and his Ph.D. students Anayo Ukwuani and Jonathan Masih Das won their EPA People Planet Prosperity (P3) sustainability award in the challenge areas of materials, chemistry, and water. Their project, Developing a Vacuum Distillation – Acid Absorption System for Recovery of Ammonia from Dairy Manure. To appreciate the sustainability of this development, consider that dairy manure has high ammonia concentrations and contributes to air and water pollution. Dairy farms need cost-effective methods to upgrade their nutrient management plans. Our goal is to develop an innovative technology coupling vacuum distillation and acid absorption for sustainable recovery of ammonia from both anaerobically digested and undigested dairy manure. Ammonia in dairy manure can be distilled under a low vacuum at a temperature below the normal boiling point of water and absorbed in a sulfuric acid solution to produce ammonium sulfate as a value-added product.

Alexandria, Virginia — Student teams gather for the U.S. EPA P3 Competition at the National Sustainable Design Expo at Oronoco Bay Park.

Dr. Wendong Tao and his SUNY ESF students Anayo Ukwuani and Jonathan Masih Das gather for the U.S. EPA P3 Competition at the National Sustainable Design Expo at Oronoco Bay Park.

Alexandria, Virginia — Student teams gather for the U.S. EPA P3 Competition at the National Sustainable Design Expo at Oronoco Bay Park.

PhD student Anayo Ukwuani explains the pilot-scale vacuum distillation – acid absorption system for SUNY ESF ERE U.S. EPA P3 waste to energy invention.

Alexandria, Virginia — SUNY Albany wins a 2015 P3 Award during the P3 Awards Ceremony at Oronoco Bay Park.

SUNY ESF EREs Team wins a 2015 P3 Award during the P3 Awards Ceremony at Oronoco Bay Park. Left to right, Lek Kadeli (EPA acting assistant administrator for R&D), Team ERE’s Wendong Tao, Jonathan Masih Das, Anayo Ukwuani, and William Euille, Mayor of the City of Alexandria

The specific objectives were to 1) evaluate the effects of temperature, vacuum, and dissolved solids concentration on ammonia recovery; 2) design an ammonia distillation – acid absorption system to produce ammonium sulfate granules with dairy manure; 3) construct a pilot-scale vacuum distillation – acid absorption system and develop operational parameters; and 4) perform a farm-scale economic analysis of the developed technology across its life cycle.

Kudos to this team for achieving their challenges!


What follows are notes from Alex Caven, President of Engineering for a Sustainable Society (ESS), and Ted Endreny, their adviser:

Instead of relaxing during over spring break, five members of our ESS club (including Jen Gienau), traveling independent of ESF, but with an ESF ERE alumnus Stan Hovey, gathered in Haiti to implement sanitation and reforestation projects. The sanitation project was developed last year when ESS members embarked on an exploratory trip to Haiti, and the reforestation project has been in the works for decades thanks to the dedication of Stan Hovey. To prepare for the trip the ESF students learned of Haiti’s long history of political exploitation, and began to understand the underlying reasons of the country’s economic, social, and environmental challenges. In short, the country lacks adequate sanitation infrastructure, emergency facilities, and has experienced severe deforestation. To assist us at the interface of humanitarian engineering ESS has partnered with SOIL and Agronomy Institute, local organizations working to improve conditions in Haiti.

SOIL – Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods – is a non-profit founded in 2006, which provides waste to resource services by composting human waste composting for families and communities. ESS became involved when SOIL identified a problem that could benefit from an engineering solution. SOIL takes in many cubic yards of waste each month, allows this to compost for several months, and the final product then must be sieved to remove the remaining cover material and other unwanted particles. The sieving process has been a burden for the workers, requiring use of pitchforks to move the compost onto a screen and push it through by hand. ESS agreed to build a bike-powered compost sifter to improve their efficiency in the post-processing and sieving of compost. During the winter of 2015 ESS students came together to talk through design challenge, consider design alternatives, gather materials, build a prototype in Syracuse (in an unheated barn owned by ESF), and coordinate logistics between Syracuse and Haiti. One logistical obstacle to note – Haiti happens to be the only country in the world prohibiting the shipment of a bike.

Compost sifter frame as reconstructed in Haiti, with chain leading to rear wheel of bike.

Compost sifter frame as reconstructed in Haiti, with chain leading to rear wheel of bike.

In Haiti, the students reconnected with their shipped materials (sans bike), and met with the SOIL team to discuss the engineering design solution. Working together with SOIL staff, we built the compost sifter over the course of two six-hour sessions. This was completed at the SOIL office in Port-au-Prince and then loaded into the back of a pickup truck and driven into and through the city dump to reach the SOIL composting site. There, we connected the bike to the structure, worked through some issues with keeping the chain running smoothly, and gave it a first sifting test. Looking for a rider was easy – the SOIL workers at the compost site were eager to ride the bike. The final product will continue to be tweaked to better handle a range of size distributions.

The reforestation project was initiated by ERE photogrammetry specialist Stan Hovey, who spent some of his childhood in Haiti where his father was tasked with promoting reforestation and building an agronomy program. More recently Stan has taken up the reigns on his father’s projects and reached out to ESS for help. During the 2015 spring break ESS students participated in the building of two tree nurseries, and worked with Haitian agronomists from 6 different regions of the country to develop record-keeping, map-making, and technical skills. During this trip, ESS members approached a school outside of the city of Petit-Goave to start environmental clubs for budding scientists to promote environmental awareness. The agronomists, when the nursery trees are ready for planting, will recruit these environmental club members to help plant the trees. Stan has introduced advanced geographic information system (GIS) technologies to the tree nursery projects, and the ESS students helped agronomists to geotag nursery locations in the EpiCollect platform.

Coffee seedlings planted by ESF ESS students, Haitian agronomists, and Petit-Goave community members.

Coffee seedlings planted by ESF ESS students, Haitian agronomists, and Petit-Goave community members.

Jen Gienau teaches Haitian agronomists to geotag locations in EpiCollect and how to download the data into a central database and upload it to a GIS map.

Jen Gienau teaches Haitian agronomists to geotag locations in EpiCollect and how to download the data into a central database and upload it to a GIS map.

In addition to moving forward with these projects, ESS plans to engage in other efforts. Smart phones and computers are needed by the agronomists to help keep records and maintain communication across sites. Financial and material resources are needed for an innovative goat program which provides families with pregnant goats, along with nursery development, management, tree disbursement and planting to provide goat food and complete a nutrition cycle. Finally, electricity is needed by the mountain community of Bon-Bon, which has a high energy stream running nearby. There is the possibility ESS will build a pico- or micro-hydro system to provide Bon-Bon with year-round electricity.

SUNY ESF’s ESF Engineers without Borders club and our Engineers for a Sustainable Society club are honored to announce that the entire community of Buena Vista, Honduras now has potable water. This is the result of many partners, including the community of Buena Vista, the local NGO Alfalit, our EWB and ESS clubs, and numerous donors and friends.

In October 2014 we received confirmation from our partner organization Alfalit that the eight tasks designated in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in August 2014 are complete. These tasks included finishing the distribution lines, house connections and taps for the borough Los Vegas, replacing/covering up piping, repairing concrete on the dam, putting in a new valve box and establishing a cable crossing, all of which are challenging tasks. We are told by Alfalit that the entire Buena Vista community is jubilant with the potable water supply reaching every home, and they plan a celebration recognizing the project’s completion in November 2014.

Buena Vista community with new water line cable crossing at Prieta Creek.

Buena Vista community with new water line cable crossing at Prieta Creek.

Our EWB club will be filing for project closeout and working on close out assessment measures. The EWB and ESS clubs are also working on designing, funding, fabricating, and installing signage about the potable water project in Buena Vista to recognize the contributors to this project. This project has been an outstanding collaborative effort across 7 years.

Read more on our Buena Vista project!

In August 2014, ERE students Tom J. Decker (Senior) and Taylor Brown (Sophomore) were led by Professor Ted Endreny to Buena Vista, Yoro, Honduras to extend a community water supply project. ESF has been involved with this project since 2007, with plans, funding, and designs coming from ESF’s Engineering for a Sustainable Society club and Engineers without Borders club, and onsite project coordination from a local NGO called Alfalit International. Due to Honduras suffering from political and criminal instability since 2009, ESF students have had limited travel into Buena Vista, with the last visit in the summer of 2011 (see earlier article).

The purpose of this August 2014 trip was to extend the water supply (i.e., dig trenches, lay pipe) into Los Vegas, a hamlet of Buena Vista, evaluate the existing system of storage and conveyance for needed repairs and flow regulation, as well as sign an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Buena Vista water board, known as the Junta de Agua.

ESF travelers, (left to right): Professor Ted Endreny, Tom J. Decker and Taylor Brown in the village of Buena Vista, Hamlet of Los Vegas, in front of the home of a Buena Vista Junta de Agua officer.

ESF travelers, (left to right): Professor Ted Endreny, Tom J. Decker and Taylor Brown in the village of Buena Vista , Hamlet of Los Vegas, in front of the home of a Buena Vista Junta de Agua officer.

Buena Vista is located in the mountains southwest of Olanchito, Yoro. The villagers are mostly farms growing beans, corn, yucca, coffee, fruits, and raising farm animals such as chickens and pigs. The community water supply project has tapped water from a deep pool in a reach of stream far above the community, and gravity delivers the water through a system of iron and PVC pipes extending several kilometers. Before this community water supply was installed, the Buena Vista villagers did not have a continuous supply of clean, potable water, and their water supply had been from a section of stream exposed to animal and human foot traffic and waste, and conveyed through system of weak rubber hoses lying along the foot and vehicle paths. These hoses were prone to puncture, leaks, and contamination, and villagers suffered from water borne illnesses. Further, the water supply was not reliable, with the hoses primarily bringing water during the rainy season (late summer to early winter) and only to a limited number of homes in the community. The community water supply system implemented by the ESS/EWB club has provided approximately 45 families with a clean, reliable source of water in their households for drinking, bathing, cooking and laundry.

Map of water supply overlaid on a photo of a typical street scene in Buena Vista village. The water source is in the upper left, with pipe (in yellow) leading to a sedimentation tank, distribution tank, and 2 storage tanks. Distribution lines for Hamlet of Las Esperanza (in red) and for Los Rosales (in purple) are already complete. The final distribution lines and taps for 11 homes in the Hamlet of Los Vegas were being implemented during the August 2014 trip.

Map of water supply overlaid on a photo of a typical street scene in Buena Vista village. The water source is in the upper left, with pipe (in yellow) leading to a sedimentation tank, distribution tank, and 2 storage tanks. Distribution lines for Hamlet of Las Esperanza (in red) and for Los Rosales (in purple) are already complete. The final distribution lines and taps for 11 homes in the Hamlet of Los Vegas were being implemented during the August 2014 trip.

The establishment of a Junta de Agua in the community is a standard procedure that is critical for the long-term success of these projects. Giving people in the village leadership roles allows them to look out for their local interests, mobilize others in their community, and through ownership builds a sense of pride and responsibility. This transfer of ownership is a sustainable design concept intended for the community to maintain the system through pay-to-use fees, without being financially or technically dependent on the ESF clubs or Alfalit. Going forward, ESF clubs and Alfalit can partner with the village to undertake major repairs. Fortunately for our ESF clubs, our NGO partner Alfalit has experience establishing Junta de Aguas in other communities, and has helped establish the Junta de Agua in Buena Vista.

The wash area behind the home of an officer in the Buena Vista Junta de Aqua, Hamlet of Los Rosales.  A new water line with tap is filling a tub of water.

The wash area behind the home of an officer in the Buena Vista Junta de Aqua, Hamlet of Los Rosales. A new water line with tap is filling a tub of water.

Alfalit, our NGO partner, considers the Buena Vista community water supply project one of the most challenging in the region due to long distances for distribution lines connecting the three hamlets. Indeed, this project has faced many challenges funding materials and installing the distribution and supply lines. The work season is short, with no road access to Buena Vista during the rainy season, when roads are washed out. Project momentum and funding was lost in 2009 when Honduras faced a coup d’etat and the club was barred from traveling to the country by EWB-USA, so additional fundraising was needed. It is extremely gratifying that fundraising was successful and this August 2014 we were able to get the remaining construction materials into Buena Vista, and pipe installed in newly dug trenches to Los Vegas.


The MOU signed during the August 2014 trip gave more ownership of the project to the village of Buena Vista. The Junta de Agua was formally given the responsibility of collecting monthly fees from the people using the water supply to cover repairs of materials, system operation, maintenance and protection. The MOU also specified the consequences for people who did not pay the monthly fee or disrupted the water supply system. The MOU established that major technical issues with the water supply will be addressed by Alfalit rather than the ESF clubs, but the clubs can be involved in providing support. The MOU explains how Alfalit will supervise the gradual transfer of management of the community water supply to the community. At the signing of the MOU, the villagers expressed their excitement and gratitude to complete this project and to be taking on more responsibility. The villagers of Buena Vista have been empowered to sustain this new community water supply for their future needs and those of future generations.

The signing of the new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU was signed by the ESS club and EWB club president, the local Alfalit director, and the president of the Junta de Agua.

The signing of the new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU was signed by the ESS club and EWB club president, the local Alfalit director, and the president of the Junta de Agua.

Humanitarian Engineering for Development Workers ERE 496 student, Amanda Kullman discusses solutions to help reach Millennium Development Goal numbers four and seven, to improve child mortality rates and to ensure environmental sustainability by providing safe drinking water.

URL: (March 25, 2010)

On March 25th, 2010 CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Dr. Richard Wukich on his work in Haiti with Potters for Peace in a special called “One Filter, One Life”.  Dr. Wukich spoke  about the importance of providing a water filtration system to the people of Haiti, who were at an increased risk of contracting waterborne illnesses after the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010.  The filters made by Potters for Peace are a mixture of 50% clay and 50% sawdust with small additions of silver.  The particles of silver kill the bacteria in the water passing through the clay, generating water that is safe to drink.  This portable filter can clean 2.5 L/ hour and costs a mere $15 to make.

Water scarcity was already an issue in Haiti prior to the 2010 earthquake and when the disaster hit, the problem reached new levels.  In 2007, it was recorded that Haiti had approximately 1300 m3 of freshwater per capita with that number dropping slightly by 2011 (The World Bank DataBank).  As a water stressed country, effective infrastructure is key to ensuring that what little water there is, is efficiently delivered to the people.  Prior to the event, roughly 50% of the country did not have access to an improved water source and nearly 70% of the population did not have access to potable water of any sort (Water In Crisis).  The quake crippled the nations infrastructure, knocking out many of the main water distribution lines, and making it ever more difficult for people to get water when they needed it most.

For a nation in which 50% of the population lives on less than $1 per day and almost 75%  live on less than $2 per day (Water in Crisis), improving water sources is near impossible without the help of an external organization or donor.  Dr. Wukich and Potters for Peace played an integral role in changing this situation.  At just $15, the clay pots provide an appropriate solution to addressing water contamination.  While a $15 investment may be monumental up front, the product is capable of providing an abundant source of clean water in a very short period of time.  If small communities invest in the filter together, the price per capita becomes more reasonable and the access to clean water increases tremendously.  The product was especially appropriate immediately following the 2010 earthquake because accessing water was not necessarily the critical issue.  Hospitals had access to water, it was simply not clean enough to provide to patients.  The pots dramatically changed that situation and helped save numerous lives.

Potter's for Peace clay filter

Potter’s for Peace clay filter

In terms of where the product falls short of being an appropriate technology, it is difficult to find flaws aside from the cost. As previously mentioned, a $15 up front investment may be monumental if the purchase is made by a a single family.  The cost per capita however, can be decreased if a number of families invest in the technology together.  The required labor, maintenance, design and cultural appropriateness however are far from flawed.  Next to no labor is required to filter the water or to keep the filter functioning at par.  Culturally, there is nothing that points to the filter being inappropriate since the technology is composed of just the pot and a five gallon bucket.  Materials similar to these are readily accessible and consistently used in developing countries, just not traditionally in this capacity.

            Similar to many developing countries, the people of Haiti struggle to obtain an adequate amount of potable water.  Waterborne illnesses such as typhoid, cholera and chronic diarrhea cause more than half of the deaths in the country each year (Water in Crisis).  Contaminated water is one of the leading causes of childhood illnesses and a major contributor to the extremely high infant mortality rate in the country (57 for every 1000 births) (Water in Crisis).  Prior to the quake 16% of child-under-five deaths were attributed to water contamination and that statistic has dramatically increased since the cholera outbreak that was associated with the 2010 earthquake (Clean Water).

The clay filter pots can directly improve the accessibility of potable water and ultimately help achieve Millennium Development Goal number seven, Target C.  While the goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation has technically been met, there is still much that needs to be done.  As previously mentioned, the availability of potable water directly impacts child mortality rates meaning that this technology also contributes to the success of Millennium Development Goal number four.  Improving access to potable water will decrease the incidence of diarreaheal diseases and ultimately improve the child mortality rates.

Per Varkey and Dlamini, “a study aimed at determining the efficiencies of 5 filters, namely, biosand filter-standard (BSF-S), biosand filter-zeolite (BSF-Z), bucket filter (BF), ceramic candle filter (CCF), and silver-impregnated porous pot (SIPP), revealed that SIPP was the most efficient at removing bacteria and hence indicating that it can be an effective household water treatment system (Mwabi et al., 2012).”  This study backs up the work done by Dr. Wukich and the claims made above, that the use of silver impregnated clay pots has the power to drastically improve the access to clean water and can therefore directly improve child mortality rates.


While Potters for Peace have worked extensively to develop the silver impregnated clay pot filters, a company called Vastergaard has worked extensively on developing the LifeStraw line of products.  Similar to the clay pots, this family of prodcuts filters water, improving the quality and potability.  Vastergaard has produced six different LifeStraw products with the LifeStraw 1.0 being the most similar to the product produced by Potters for Peace.

The LifeStraw 1.0 is a 2L water bucket attached to a primary filter, halogen chamber, and a hollow fibre membrane cartridge.   Contaminated water is poured into the water reservoir where it passes through a primary filter.  The water then enters the halogen chamber where it is dosed with chlorine before passing through the hose and membrane cartridge after which it is finally potable (LifeStraw® Family 1.0.).


Vastergaard's LifeStraw 1.0

Vastergaard’s LifeStraw 1.0


While the LifeStraw 1.0 provides the same services as the clay pot filter, the technology is far less appropriate.  The product costs nearly $80 (LifeStraw® Family 1.0.), a price that is far to high for people who make less than a dollar or two each day.  While the labor associated with the product is minimal, educating people how to use the product is more extensive than the education process for the clay pot product.   With the LifeStraw 1.0 there are two taps, only one of which delivers potable water and the filters need to be changed after some time.  Neither of these things are readily apparent and the only way people can become aware of this is through an education program.  In addition, the maintenance costs and labor are more extensive than those associated with the pots.  As previously mentioned, the filter and halogen chamber need to be replaced, creating additional costs and work for the people using the product (LifeStraw® Family 1.0.).  As far as the cultural appropriateness goes, it is difficult to determine whether or not the product is acceptable.  While it nearly resembles a jerry can with a few attachments, the product is not as simple looking as the clay pot and five gallon bucket.  This being said, it may be appropriate but not quite as appropriate as the alternative solution. When finally considering the design, the LifeStraw 1.0 is less appropriate than the filter pot.  The product has numerous components, many of which are inherently advanced technologies even though they provide a simple solution to water filtration.  If ever something on the product were to break, it is not easily identifiable or fixable while the opposite is true for the filter pot.




Clean Water: A Health Essential | Lack of Clean Water in Haiti | International Action. (2014). Retrieved 18 April 2014, from

LifeStraw® Family 1.0. (2014). Retrieved 18 April 2014, from


Water In Crisis – Spotlight Haiti. (2014). The Water Project. Retrieved 18 April 2014, from


World Bank DataBank | Explore . Create . Share. (2014). Retrieved 18 April 2014, from


Varkey, A. J., & Dlamini, M. D. (2012). Point-of-use water purification using clay pot water filters and copper mesh. Water S. A., 38(5), 721-726. Retrieved from


Humanitarian Engineering for Development Workers ERE 496 student Thomas Decker discusses solutions to help reach Millennium Development Goals 4 (reduce child mortality), 5 (improve maternal health), 6 (combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases), and 7 (ensure environmental sustainability).

On April 9, 2014 Engineering for Change (E4C) posted an article titled “Ventilation may matter as much as stoves for fresh kitchen air,” filed under the health and structures section of their website. The article explains the lack of ventilation in indoor spaces throughout the world and how creative ventilation solutions can provide, “…powerful, life-saving effects in developing countries where women and children cook over open wood fires” (Goodier, 2014). Often times organizations who distribute improved stoves disregard ventilation even though poorly ventilated dwellings can have pollution levels more than 100 times higher than accepted. The article summarizes with a brief statement that I believe can have a large impact; “Ventilation does not require a change in cooking habits, or a physical object to be bought or given and it can be highly customized” (Goodier, 2014). The specific issue that the article focuses on is the decreased quality of life that is a result of low quality air indoors. Low quality air is a contributing factor to respiratory illness worldwide and as written in the article, leads to the death of over 2 million people each year (lung cancer, pneumonia, COPD). There is even more validity in the argument that the article makes as seen in a March 2014 update where the World Health Organization listed that over 4 million die prematurely from illness attributable to household air pollution and more than 50% of premature deaths among children under 5 are due to pneumonia from airborne particulate matter (WHO, 2014). In a specific case, The World Bank lists that in 2012 in Jordan, 77.2% of children under 5 who entered a health clinic had an acute respiratory infection (ARI) (WorldBank, 2014). I believe that ventilation technologies/solutions can have an enormous impact upon these statistices and drastically reduce them in a short period of time. Ventilation would reduce air pollution and directly lead to improved lung and eye function of all members of a household. Ventilation methods are flexible and are appropriate given the implementation strategy. In many cases, there may be no cost to the solution and required labor would come from the homeowners themselves. Ventilation requires no change in culture or cooking habits and the design can be creatively formed to reduce maintenance or ease of construction. Maintenance would be relatively low, with cleaning of the pathway as necessary.

On a broader scale, ventilation can help attain four different Millenium Development Goals through reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, and ensuring environmental sustainability. In low and middle income countries there is an appreciable population attributable fraction of 36% that are affected by indoor air pollution which connects to the need for ventilation to improve the four above mentioned categories (Mihelcic, 2009). Ranked fourth out of the top ten risk factors contributing to burden of disease in 2000, indoor smoke from solid fuels can be alleviated by creating a passage within a home to allow for smoke to escape (Mihelcic, 2009). The idea and concept of ventilation technologies will encourage circulation of air back into the environment and reduce greenhouse gas and particulate matter within a home. Mollie (2013) describes in her study how even when an improved stove was implemented, the air quality decreased by 10-30 % because of a lack of ventilation. Her research continued by concluding that with ventilation, carbon monoxide and very small particulate matter could be reduced by 50%.

An alternative technology to solely ventilation which improves air quality is an improved stove. Improved stoves have the capacity to produce heat efficiently, reduce fuel usage, and reduce indoor air pollution. By burning hotter and more efficiently, improved stoves burn cleaner and emit less particulate matter (Mihelcic, 2009). Instead of being considered more or less appropriate than ventilation solutions, improved stoves should work alongside ventilation. Types of improved stoves vary with some requiring a higher capital cost, but an improved stove is relatively inexpensive. Most stoves can be implemented immediately upon purchase and require little labor unless the homeowner prefers to build his/her own. Over time a stove needs to be maintained and cleaned to ensure combustion efficiency. Designs vary and some examples are the rocket stove, lorena stove, improved plancha, Ghana wood, and mud stove. However, improved stoves have the tendency to be neglected after installation because of cultural issues and the required change of cooking habits. In order to encourage success in implementation, culture is a primary issue to consider.

Figure 1 - This time series shows the the time that women spend in kitchens and how important ventilation is (DEMAND, Fall 2013).

Figure 1 – This time series shows the the time that women spend in kitchens and how important ventilation is (DEMAND, Fall 2013).



Figure 2 - A smoke hood design to increase ventilation (DEMAND, Fall 2013).

Figure 2 – A smoke hood design to increase ventilation (DEMAND, Fall 2013).


Figure 3 - A lorena stove design to improve air pollution through controlled combustion and ventilation (Mihelcic, 2009).

Figure 3 – A lorena stove design to improve air pollution through controlled combustion and ventilation (Mihelcic, 2009).


Figure 4 - A rocket stove design that improves heat efficiency but lacks ventilation improvement (Mihelcic, 2009).

Figure 4 – A rocket stove design that improves heat efficiency but lacks ventilation improvement (Mihelcic, 2009).


Goodier, R. (2014, April 9). Ventilation may matter as much as stoves for fresh kitchen air. Engineering for Change.

Mihelcic, J. (2009). Field Guide to Environmental Engineering for Development Workers. Reston: American Society of Civil Engineers.

Ruth, M. (2013). Kitchen 2.0: Design Guidance for Healthier Cooking EnvironmentsI. International Journal For Service Learning in Engineering Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship, 151-169.

WHO. (2014, March). Household Air Pollution and Health. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from Media Centre:

WorldBank. (2014). ARI Treatment. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from Data – The World Bank:



Humanitarian Engineering for Development Workers ERE 496 student Erin Jackson discusses solutions to help reach the Millennium Development Goals of developing a global partnership for development, reducing childhood mortality, combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases, as well as achieving universal primary education.

On December 16, 2013, Time Magazine published an article entitled, “After a Long Delay, Lebanon Finally Says Yes to Ikea Housing for Syrian Refugees”. Ikea is partnering with the U.N refugee agency (UNHCR) to create refugee housing. The design is flat packed, weighs less than 220 pounds and takes four hours to assemble (Figure 1).

Figure 1 show the interior of the Ikea design (A. Baker, 2013).

Figure 1 show the interior of the Ikea design (A. Baker, 2013).

It provides private, spacious living quarters outfitted with solar lighting to refugees. The goal of the project was to conduct several pilot tests prior to putting the design to work for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. However, Lebanon was reluctant to grant permission for these more permanent structures, fearing they would increase the refugee’s stay. It took 6 months of lobbying to persuade the Lebanese government to allow the Ikea shelters to be built. Now that Ikea and the UN have been granted permission, they can address the issue of providing housing for the 125,000 Syrian refugees living in Lebanon without adequate shelter.

A BBC News Article entitled “Syrian conflict: Refugee life inside Lebanese camps” corroborated some of the statistics provided by the Time Magazine article. Both reported that the population of Lebanon had increased by 25 percent since the influx of Syrian refugees. A peer reviewed journal article out of the Forced Migration Review stated that based on official numbers alone (excluding unregistered refugees), Syrians make up 10 percent of the 4.2 million people living in Lebanon (J. Loveless, 2013). By the end of the 2013 they project this official number to be up to 20 percent. With such a high incidence of unregistered refugees, the 25% statistic reported by Time Magazine and BBC News is proven to be reasonable. The Time Magazine Article also asserted that 2 million Syrians have fled since the conflict started in 2011. This number, as of December 2013 is confirmed by the UNHCR website. However, the Time Magazine article lead readers to believe that prior to approving the Ikea shelters, refugees were not living in camps in Lebanon, but scattered throughout the country. According to the BBC report and interviews, 10,000 to 22,000 Syrian refugees have moved into the Sabra and Shatila camps, originally established for Palestinian refugees. These camps are unofficial and essentially urban slums. Other refugees, as suggested by the article in Time, are scattered about the country. The appropriateness of the Ikea shelter design varies for different metrics. In terms of cost, the technology may not be appropriate. Currently the price of one housing unit is $1,000. Without UN and Ikea funding, refugees would not be able to access this technology. Once the shelters have been made, they are easily constructed in four hours. With minimal labor required for construction, camps can quickly be constructed and destructed, adding to the appropriateness of the technology. In addition, without maintenance, the shelters are projected to last 3 years, while the average tent lasts only 6 months. This means that the well-designed shelters may save relief agencies money in comparison to replacing quickly worn out tents. However, since the materials are not easily accessible making repairs or conducting maintenance on the structure would be difficult for refugees. Attention to the cultural appropriateness of the shelter could have been increased. Just as the Lebanese government is worried about a prolonged stay for the Syrians, refugees too, fear remaining permanently stuck in Lebanon. While more comfortable shelters and official camps might improve the living conditions, they could increase fears of an extended displaced existence. In addition, there are many Syrians who refuse to register with the UN because doing so might place them on a list of “defectors” and risk the safety of relatives remaining in Syria. Neither the Ikea shelter nor the official camp will serve such individuals. The design itself, while innovative, may not be appropriate in serving the refugees. The light penetrating foam technology and solar powered lighting may be too unfamiliar to refugees to be comfortable.

The Ikea shelters can help develop a global partnership for development (Millennium Development Goal # 8). The Swedish company is partnering with the United Nations to provide the shelters in Lebanon for Syrian refugees. In this way, the project targets the goal of working with the private sector to make new technologies available to developing countries. The Ikea shelters will also reduce childhood mortality (Millennium Development Goal #4). Half of the Syrian refugees are children (UNHRC). In their current cramped conditions, they lack proper sanitation and crowding increases the potential for the outbreak of epidemics. Children are among the most susceptible to fatalities resulting from these diseases, but the shelters would also reduce the burden of disease on the population as a whole. Thus the project would address Millennium Development goal #5, combat malaria and other diseases. Finally, The Time Magazine article stated that the solar lights in the shelters would allow children to continue their studies even after dark, helping to achieve universal primary education (Millennium Development Goal #2). Humanitarian and Medical Challenges of Assisting New Refugees in Lebanon and Iraq, an article published in the Forced Migration Review, emphasizes the decentralized nature of refugee populations as the main difficulty in providing health care services and other aid. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees are scattered in 1,000 municipalities across the country. If refugees were together in a centralized location, living in safer conditions (provided by the shelters) epidemics could be predicted, tracked and reduced (Sa’Da & Serafinia, 2013). Therefore, a centralized camp of Ikea shelters would allow relief workers to address the issues of combating diseases and reducing childhood mortality.

Another design for a refugee shelter has been created by Abeer Seikaly, a Jordanian-Canadian architect (Green Prophet). It is a woven cloth structure that is highly mobile. Outfitted with solar panels, a water tank on the roof, and internal pockets for storage, the design caters to the needs of displaced peoples (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2 shows the exterior of the woven shelter design (Green Prophet).

Figure 2 shows the exterior of the woven shelter design (Green Prophet).




Figure 3 illustrates the water heating and storage capacity of the woven shelter design (Green Prophet).

Figure 3 illustrates the water heating and storage capacity of the woven shelter design (Green Prophet).


No cost has been published for these structures, but it is likely that the woven materials would cost less than the Ikea foam. The reduction of cost would make this product more accessible to refugees with limited resources. To construct the shelter, refugees would weave together the cloths and supports. This time and labor demand of the construction process would be comparable to that of the Ikea structure. It is possible that the fabric would wear out sooner than the Ikea foam material, requiring patching maintenance or replacement. The woven aspect of the design, as opposed to the modular snapping panels of the Ikea shelter, is more appropriate for people the Syrian culture. The thermo-siphoning water system of the woven design might be complicated for refugees to reestablish each time they move their tent. But, if the users are properly taught the principles of the system, the idea of heating and moving water by the sun’s energy is very appropriate.



Abu Sa’Da, C., & Serafini, M. (2013). Humanitarian and Medical Challenges of Assisting New Refugees in Lebanon and Iraq. Forced Migration Review, (44), 70-73.

Baker, A. (2013, December 16). After a Long Delay, Lebanon Finally Says Yes to Ikea Housing for Syrian Refugees. Time Magazine.

Collapsible woven refugee shelters powered by the sun. (2014, March 6). Green Prophet. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from

Loveless, J. (2013). Crisis in Lebanon: camps for Syrian refugees?. Forced Migration Review, (43), 66-65.

Syrian conflict: Refugee life inside Lebanese camps. (2014, April 3). BBC News.



Humanitarian Engineering for Development Workers ERE 496 student Cambria Ziemer discusses solutions to help reach Millennium Development Goals 4, 6, and 7.

The news article “An analysis of combustion from a top-lit up-draft (TLUD) cookstove” reported in the second volume of the Journal of Humanitarian Engineering, which was published in 2013, discusses the design of a new type of stove and compares this stove to a traditional three stone fire.  This stove reduces both fuel consumption and harmful emissions.  An additional benefit of this stove is that remaining biomass after burning (biochar) can be added to soil as a carbon additive (Birzer et al., 2013).  The stove works by filling the fuel chamber with biomass and lighting it from the top, which can be seen in Figure 1.  As the biomass is heated, it is separated into charcoal and volatiles.   This stove works as a gasifier, where the volatile gases produced through biomass decomposition combust with inflowing air to form the flame.  Pots are placed on top of the chimney for cooking, as seen in Figure 2. This stove burns fuel more efficiently than a three stone fire and reduces the amount of particulate matter and carbon monoxide in the surrounding air.  However, researchers found that proper fuel preparation is necessary for efficient burning and that this stove can increase carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions due to such efficient burning (Birzer et al., 2013).  This article addresses the specific issue of the poor quality of indoor air caused by excessive smoke and incomplete burning from traditional cooking methods.  Indoor air pollution causes 3.8 million premature deaths per year and is the leading cause of death in children under 5 (WHO, 2014).  In addition, inefficient use of fuel increases the amount of biomass being collected, which in turn contributes to deforestation and ecosystem degradation.  Thus, there is a need for more efficient and safe stoves in areas where traditional three stone fires are still being used.   The technology discussed in this article improves both problems by using a method of cooking that reduces particulate matter in the air around the stove, which can improve human health, and also requires less fuel than a traditional fire, lessening the toll of biomass collection on the environment.  This technology is appropriate in terms of cost because it can be constructed from recycled materials, such as paint or bean cans (Birzer et al., 2013).  The labor required to construct this stove is also appropriate because it requires simple tools and no specialized skills or equipment, so any family that collects the materials can also build the stove.  The labor involves puncturing the cans so they contain air vents as well as attaching the chimney, lid, and fuel chamber together in a secure fashion.  This stove requires very little maintenance.  The fuel chamber will need to be emptied on a regular basis since charcoal builds up inside.  If any piece of the stove breaks, it can be replaced using similar recycled materials that were used to construct the original stove, which should be available locally on short notice.   The design of this stove can be altered based on culture, to accommodate for the usual cooking pot size and cooking height (chimney height can be increased).  If a culture requires multiple pots cooking simultaneously, this stove is not appropriate unless a family constructs several to use.  Acceptance of this stove has been slow, even in areas where the need is high, due to hesitation from local users. Since the flame is not visible or as large as a traditional cooking fire, some users are not convinced it will work as well and are reluctant to use it.  In addition, this stove may reduce the time spent collecting biomass fuel, but the fuel needs to be properly bundled or condensed to small, round pellets for proper air movement in the fuel chamber.  This extra step prior to use discourages users who do not prepare fuel prior to use in their culture (Harper, 2013).  The design of the stove is fairly appropriate, as it is small and can be adjusted based on the availability of local materials.


The combustion process of a top lit updraft stove (Higgins et al., 2013).

The combustion process of a top lit updraft stove (Higgins et al., 2013).

Assembled top lit updraft stove (Birzer et al., 2013).

Assembled top lit updraft stove (Birzer et al., 2013).

This article addresses broader context areas described by several Millennium Development Goals including reducing child mortality, combating diseases, and ensuring environmental sustainability.  Improving indoor air quality will improve the health of children by reducing particulate matter in the air which can cause pneumonia.  This will reduce child mortality as children spent much of their early childhood with their mothers near the kitchen preparing food.  Adult health will also be improved and reduce the number of preventable diseases caused by indoor air pollution, such as lung cancer.  In addition, reducing harmful emissions and the amount of biomass collected from an ecosystem promotes environmental sustainability.  The new stove in this article impacts the context area of human health by immediately eliminating negative effects of open fires while still allowing families to cook meals as necessary.  Families will be able to enjoy cooking and not worry about their health if they were to construct a stove using this model.  Martin et al. (2013) also found a correlation between the use of the top lit updraft stove and improved health, especially for children in Uganda.  However these researchers found that this stove was mostly accepted for its fuel efficiency and economic benefits, rather than health benefits.


Another technology that has been used to improve indoor air quality is the rocket stove.  This stove is also appropriate in terms of cost and labor, but generally materials are not recycled for this stove, but can still be acquired locally.  The rocket stove can be made of brick or ceramics combined with sheet metal to form the combustion chamber (Mihelcic et al., 2009).  There is very little maintenance involved for the rocket stove, a similar time commitment to the top lit updraft stove.  However, the rocket stove has higher emissions than the top lit updraft stove and the remaining biomass after burning cannot be added to soil.  This stove may be more culturally appropriate in areas where sticks are primarily used for fuel, since the top lit updraft stove requires fuel preparation into pellets (Anderson, 2011).  The design of the rocket stove allows for increased heat to be directed at the pot and may be more appealing to users since there is a large flame visible to show the stove is working properly (Mihelcic et al., 2009).




Anderson, Paul (2011). TLUD in 2011.  Biomass Energy Foundation, Presentation at 2011 ETHOS Conference.


Birzer, C., Medwell, P., Wilkey, J., West, T., Higgins, M., Macfarlene, G., et al. (2013). An analysis of combustion from a top-lit up-draft (TLUD) cookstove. Journal of Humanitarian Engineering2, 1-8.


Harper, Logan (2013).  Cooking in Kampala.  George Washington University, School of Public Health.


Higgins, M., MacFarlane, G., Read, M., West, T., Wilkey, J., et al. (2013).  Cooking stoves for the developing world.  The University of Adelaide.


Martin, S. L., Arney, J. K., Mueller, L. M., Kumakech, E., Walugembe, F., & Mugisha, E. (2013). Using formative research to design a behavior change strategy to increase the use of improved cookstoves in peri-urban kampala, uganda. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(12), 6920-6938.


Mihelcic, J., Fry, L., Myre, E., Phillips, L., Barkdoll, B, et al., (2009). Field Guide to Environmental Engineering for Development Workers.  ASCE Press.


World Health Organization (2014).  Household Air Pollution and Health. World Health Organization Fact Sheet N°292.