Engineer Quenches Thirst in Papua New Guinea
Access to clean water and suitable sanitation is an ongoing problem in many countries that numerous non-profits are actively trying to combat. Many of the volunteers for these organizations must travel to remote areas to provide firsthand help in order to improve the sanitation conditions in third world countries across the globe.
David Hall is a civil engineer who works with Volunteer Services Abroad, a New Zealand economic development agency similar to the U.S. Peace Corps, and is helping to improve these conditions. Hall and his wife Rosie traveled to West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, an impoverished nation of about six million people, where most of the population lives in remote rural areas without plumbing to help improve sanitation conditions. Hall was responsible for helping local villagers install basic water supply systems – providing water in taps within the village and relieving the women and children of the daily chore of fetching water, often from miles away. He also assisted in constructing ventilated “longdrop” toilets as a sanitary alternative to the current practice of using the brush or beaches as bathrooms. The main component is a concrete slab with a hole in it (to squat over) and a ventilation pipe to minimize odors. Hall and his wife also helped establish a hygiene education program to teach people the links between health and sanitation.
Improving the sanitation conditions is made more difficult since islanders cannot depend on a power supply for pumping the water. Hence, harvesting and filtration systems are based on gravity from either an elevated natural spring or a collection tank on a roof. To help design water supply systems, harvesting and filtration systems, and toilets that will improve the current conditions, Hall needed a cheap, portable and easy-to-use 2D CAD tool. He came across DraftSight®, a free 2D CAD tool from Dassault Systèmes, which was easily installed for immediate use on his Mac laptop.
“Having never used a drawing package, I had to start from scratch and work through the manual which I found useful,” said Hall, who previously sketched by hand. “I was able to produce the drawings I needed.”
DraftSight provides free, unlimited use to non-profit organizations, allowing them to avoid software licensing fees and allocate their savings to other resources.
“It can be a very rewarding experience when one sees the pride in the villagers’ faces as the water system starts working after they have worked out for themselves – with some thoughtful guidance – what needs to be done,” said Hall. “They did all the hard work, such as digging pipe trenches, pouring concrete, etc. There is a direct correlation between the effort involved and a sense of ownership.”
“Aid work can also be pretty frustrating at times,” he adds. “One has to learn to go with the flow!”
As for the flow of longdrop toilets, Live and Learn volunteers recently helped construct 50 Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) units in the village of Potpot on Vitu Island. Improving sanitation in Potpot saves unnecessary trips to the island’s only health clinic which is a 40-minute trip by boat and is several hours away by tractor.
A rudimentary structure is built above the concrete slab for privacy with the frames sometimes covered with large coconut fronds. PVC ventilation pipes are painted black to absorb heat and create convection currents that help disperse odors.
“Problems still remain and flies may continue to be a health problem, hopefully less so than now. At least the beach won’t be used any longer and we’ll see a clean-up of the sea,” he adds.
Plumbing issues aside, Hall says that he is awed by the gorgeous scenery in Papua New Guinea.
“It’s like a veritable Garden of Eden around here,” he says.
If you’d like to learn more about engineer David Hall’s ongoing volunteer assignments in Papua New Guinea, visit his blog at: http://daveandrosie.wordpress.com/.