School Of Built Environment, Engineering And Computing

Sustainable development of water quality infrastructure and operational reliability of rural community water points in developing countries

Sustainable development of water quality infrastructure and operational reliability of rural community water points in developing countries

the challenge

In rural communities throughout the Global South water infrastructure is often broken, and groundwater is frequently consumed untreated; potentially contaminated with faecal coliforms. This relates to high incidence of water-related diseases, which kill more than 3.5 million people annually. If the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be met, there is a vital need to address this humanitarian situation that should not be permitted to take place in the 21st Century.

Potable water is critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems and for human survival itself. It is a fundamental necessity to reduce the global burden of disease and improve the health, welfare and productivity of populations, as well as benefits and services for people. Clean water is also core for sustainable development – itself being an irreplaceable resource that is primary to human wellbeing. In the long-term, the outcomes from not consuming polluted water will directly contribute to the health of the population and quality of life, thereby driving economic growth.

3.5 mil

people are killed annually by water-related diseases.

the Approach

In 2005, Dr Pritchard commenced an extensive shallow well field-monitoring programme throughout southern Malawi to document the drinking water quality of over 17,000 Malawians over approximately a demi-decade. It was found that about 80% of the wells failed in the dry season, which increased to 95% in the wet season. Work then commenced on ways to immediately address these grossly contaminated shallow wells.

Primarily, this involved working directly with water officers and village chiefs to try to develop short-term remediation strategies. However, it was soon realised long-term approaches were needed, which led to a two-pronged approach currently being implemented:

01 - To tackle policy and educational issues regarding current practises

Funding was obtained from DelPHE to develop a new suite of postgraduate courses at the Malawi Polytechnic to educate water officials, community leaders, NGO practitioners and other relevant water stakeholders. Further grants have subsequently been secured from the EU and UK governments via the FP7 and Innovate UK funding mechanisms. These projects have facilitated dialogue with a range of water stakeholders (such as charitable, industrial, governmental and educational) in the EU, Brazil, Gambia and Sierra Leone.

02 - To develop appropriate field-based technologies to significantly improve the water quality infrastructure and operational reliability of rural community water points

Studies were conducted in Malawi (2010-ongoing), the Amazon Region of Brazil (2013-17), Sierra Leone (2016-17) and Gambia (2017) which included:

  • Scientific investigation of more appropriate and sustainable materials (plant extracts) for water treatment
  • Development of innovative community-based water purification systems
  • Investigations into the operational reliability of rural water supplies
Children by the water pump in Malawi
The construction of the well
Taking water from the pump for quality testing
Two Malawian children using a waterpump
People constructing a well
People taking water from a pump to test water quality

the impact

  1. Improving water quality in southern Malawi

    After undertaking the shallow well field-monitoring programme in southern Malawi pre-2014, the LBU’s team then worked with water officers, community leaders and village chiefs of the wells which were yielding grossly biologically contaminated water to implement short-term remediation strategies to minimise potential outbreaks of water-related diseases.

    This work was awarded first prize at the Research Council’s UK Water Research Impact Awards – Process Technologies in 2015 for “reducing waterborne diseases from shallow wells in the developing world”. Inter alia, the ‘Water Resources Investment Strategy’, World Bank funded, captured the data to develop policy.

  2. Assisting the setup and teaching of the Malawi Polytechnic’s postgraduate provision

    Dr Pritchard led an international team of four academics and two industrialists to develop and promote Malawi Polytechnic’s first postgraduate provision directed towards water management. The first intake of students was 18, which is a significant number for any postgraduate course and has maintained a high number of students thereafter. As part of the setup of this programme, a dedicated postgraduate computer room was initiated. This room was the first of a kind at the Malawi Polytechnic, and helped them address the 4E framework for e-learning. This allowed more novel teaching approaches to be introduced. 

    Graduates from this course are now working in the water sector – promoting good practice as well as ensuring current guidelines are enforced; all of which results in less outbreaks of waterborne diseases, hence a reduction in water-related deaths.

  3. Operational reliability

    Dr Swan began research into the operational reliability of rural water supplies in 2010. Since then, various monitoring systems have been developed for water infrastructure across the Global South. However, many such technologies use complex data collection systems, which are energy-hungry and expensive. The MANTIS system is a power-efficient and low-cost system which was developed at LBU. It detects whether the water pump is in regular use and reports patterns of usage via a web interface. The prototype technology was ‘market-readied’ via collaborations between our university and two SMEs: Environmental Monitoring Solutions Ltd (EMS) and Visualwind Ltd (VW).

    These collaborations have attracted three Innovate UK funding awards, which led to the system being demonstrated in Gambia and Sierra Leone, with subsequent market research activities conducted in India.

    • In Gambia, the MANTIS system successfully detected water pump failures and informed the country’s Rural Water Resources Department
    • In March 2020, the MANTIS system was highlighted by our professional body, the Institution of Civil Engineers as a best practice exemplar for addressing the complex and pressing challenges of SDG 6
    • In November 2020, the Institution of Civil Engineers published a book to commemorate the 75th year of the United Nations and the corresponding progress towards engineering sustainability. This publication features an article on LBU’s MANTIS project, alongside contributions from UN agencies, WaterAid and Oxford University
MANTIS Field-trials in Sierra Leone
The team accepting first prize at the Research Councils UK Water Research Impact Awards
Hand holding testing equipment at a water punp in Sierra Leonne
Sustainable development of water quality team collecting an award

get in touch about the MANTIS field-trials in Sierra Leone

get in touch about our water quality work in Malawi

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