Assessing Water Quality

Imagine people in Mozambique using only 10 liters of water every day for all of their drinking, washing, and cooking needs. In North America, people use about 400 liters of water every day according to WaterAid. To help improve water access for the people of this developing nation, ten MIT students, including graduate student Pragnya Alekal, took part in a semester-long Department of Urban Studies and Planning service learning course and planned a trip to Mozambique in 2005. Pragnya, along with 8 others, also won a 2004-2005 IDEAS Competition Award for their Mozambique Environmental Sanitation Initiative (MESI) idea.

The purpose of this project was to teach the local government and community how to assess the water needs of people living in poor neighborhoods who do not have easy access to safe drinking water. The team would lead the assessment of one of the several municipalities so that they could focus on one area and thoroughly train the locals. The data collected would be given to the local and national water authorities to be used to improve water access since the Mozambique government lacked the resources to do so.

In addition to the water needs assessment, the team trained people in the use of a water testing kit. "We did a 3-5 day training on how to do basic water quality analysis, teaching why [someone] would need to test water and why [clean water] is important," Pragnya said. They also taught the local people how to design quantitative surveys to get them involved in the process and to keep the system sustainable. The team gave the people the skills and knowledge to continue assessing all of Mozambique so that by now assessment is entirely done by the community.

The training and surveying of the regional population proved to be difficult because of the language and communication barriers. Pragnya felt that it was virtually impossible to fully communicate in Portuguese, the country's official language. She also noted that there was little preparation work done by the local government and they had to start from the very beginning, going over what germs are, why water is difficult to get, why salinity is so bad.

Although it was difficult in the beginning, the project was largely successful and the experience helped open their eyes to the lives and culture of a developing nation. Three of the IDEAS team members continue to work in the field. Jigar Bhatt, Program Officer in the Accountability Department of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, is responsible for monitoring, evaluation and research of all aspects of a $506 million grant to the Government of Mozambique, over $200 million of which is the Water and Sanitation sector. Ella Lazarte now works for the Water and Sanitation Program housed in the World Bank and frequently travels to many developing countries supporting regional teams with issues in water and sanitation services. Valentina Zuin is in Maputo, Mozambique working for the World Bank in the Water and Sanitation Program. The MESI group still serve as resources to each other whenever anyone has a question on water and sanitation.

Read more about students and their public service projects...