Friday, January 27, 2012

2011 International WaTER Conference at OU

The 2nd Biennial University of Oklahoma Water Technologies for Emerging Regions Conference was held October 24-26, 2011. The conference theme, Synergy at the Interface: Integrating Technology, Social Entrepreneurship and Behavior Change,” was designed to bring together participants from multiple disciplines responding to the UN Millennium Development Goals of bringing water and sanitation to emerging regions and to allow participants a forum for sharing experience and discussing challenges and solutions.

Over 200 water and sanitation experts from academia, industry, NGOs, governments and foundations representing more than 35 countries, converged in Norman, Okla. for the event. The conference included contributed oral and poster presentations addressing the full suite of water related topics, such as social entrepreneurship, behavior change, water technologies, climate change, and hydro-philanthropy in the developing world; six keynote talks from leading water, sanitation and health (WASH) professionals; an educational Clean Water Poster Contest for local school children; and two half-day workshops on social entrepreneurship and pump, well, water treatment and latrine technologies. The highlight of the conference was the awarding of the 2011 OU International Water Prize to Mr. Ben Fawcett from the University of Queensland, Australia, co-author of the milestone book The Last Taboo: Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis.

Conference attendees responded positively to the conference’s emphasis on applied research, especially the number of presentations based on in-country research, and attention to both the cultural and scientific aspects of water and sanitation issues.

The 3rd Biennial University of Oklahoma WaTER Conference is set to take place September 23-25, 2013.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ganga Goes to Ghana!

Ganga Moorthy, a senior at OU, recently completed Dr. David Sabatini's honors course on " WaTER for Health, Education, Development and Peace in Emerging Regions". Little did she know how quickly she would be putting the information into practice!

The OU chapter of Global Medical Brigades, a non-governmental organization that works in disadvantaged countries, traveled to Ghana during winter break to provide free healthcare and talk to residents about health, nutrition and sanitation issues. Thirteen OU students worked with a group from the University of VirginiaThey spent 11 days in a community in central Ghana, said Ganga, the group's leader, working out of a mobile clinic and knocking on the doors of homes. The students left water filters in about 45 homes and taught the residents to use them, Moorthy said. They also demonstrated how to purify water without a filter.

By improving access to clean drinking water, Moorthy said, the students had the chance to improve the overall health of the community, rather than simply treating symptoms. “It's easy to treat the symptoms of disease,” she said. “It's harder to treat the causes of disease.” The volunteers were able to get to know some of the residents and get a better understanding of how they live. They typically began conversations by asking about their lives and their families and then moving toward health issues. Meeting the residents in their homes and having personal conversations with them helped the students see the residents as people rather than as patients, Moorthy said.

Group member Beth Huggins said the public health training was the most rewarding part of the trip and one of the most important functions. Health education is designed to help prevent illnesses from returning, she said. The nutrition education was also valuable, Huggins said. Although many of the people in the community grow more nutritious crops such as tomatoes, they typically sell those crops and eat cassava, a less-nutritious root vegetable, she said.

Huggins is scheduled to lead a trip to Honduras in May. “I've always been interested in helping other people and different cultures,” she said. “So it was right up my alley.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hong Receives Water Resource and Climate Variability Research Grants

CEES associate professor Yang “Eric” Hong, Ph.D., leads the Remote Sensing and Hydrology ( Lab at The National Weather Center ( and also serves as a co-director of the OU WaTER Center ( He is also an affiliated faculty member of the Atmospheric Radar Research Center (, the Center for Spatial Analysis ( and the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms ( Hong’s expertise is in remote sensing (primarily satellites), hydrology, water resources and climate variability. Several of his projects focus on hydrological hazard prediction and water resources in emerging regions.

Hong recently received a grant from the Pakistan - U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program. The project, titled “Capacity Building in Disaster Risk Assessment and Management through Training and Research in Geo-informatics and Hydrometeorological Hazard Risk Reduction Strategies,” focuses on increasing Pakistan’s capacity to reduce the risk of damage from potential natural disasters, including developing an early warning system for floods by integrating real-time remote sensing information and predictive hydrometeorological models. The project was one of only 28 selected from 270 applications submitted to the program and will be completed in three years. The other half of the total budget ($500K) will be directly spent training Pakistani university academics in disaster prediction and risk management techniques.
“Pakistan is a country prone to hydrometeorological disasters – flooding, landslides and droughts,” said Hong. “Monsoon flooding that began in late July 2010 has affected 20 million people in that country. This has left one-fifth of the country under water and prompted intense and sustained relief assistance from the United States and other international donors. “These recent floods in Pakistan have underlined the need for countries to be better prepared for extreme weather events. Currently, the flood risk assessment and management system in Pakistan deals with rescue and relief. Adequate adaptation practices need to be strengthened and people’s local capacities to adapt need to be supported and enforced. The early warning system will help map flood zones, determine the potential economic impact of flooding and reduce the risk of damage and fatalities in vulnerable communities.”

Ultimately, the project should build the national capacity of Pakistan in natural disaster risk mitigation through training and research in geographical information science, according to Hong. “We are likely to see more extreme events in the future, particularly in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region. The international climate, water and development communities need to ensure that adequate support is channeled to the region in a way that enforces ongoing ‘best practices in adaptation,’” said Shahid Habib, project collaborator and chief of the Office of Applied Sciences at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. For more info: or

Hong also has a project jointly funded by NASA and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). He is the science team member of the five-year SERVIR (to help in Spanish) initiative that integrates satellite observations, ground-based data and forecast models to monitor and forecast environmental changes and to improve response to natural disasters for socioeconomically vulnerable yet disaster-prone regions such as Africa, Central America, and South Asia. SERVIR enables scientists, educators, project managers and policy implementers to better respond to a range of issues including disaster management, agricultural development, biodiversity conservation and climate change. Initial applications will address three societal benefit areas: disasters (flood potential mapping, flood forecasting, and post-event flood mapping), health (Rift Valley Fever risk mapping), and biodiversity (impacts of climate change on biodiversity and coral reef monitoring).

Professor Hong’s team is working with researchers at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to develop and transfer a forecasting component into the decision-making support system to the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) based in Kenya. For example, Hong is working with the Kenya Meteorological Department to implement a high resolution distributed hydrologic model: the Coupled Routing and Excess STorage, or CREST, model. The model assimilates real-time satellite rainfall products as a boundary condition and incorporates atmospheric model-based rain forecasts to map streamflow, evapotranspiration and soil moisture. These rain forecasts will give decision-makers a longer lead-time for flood forecasting, allowing more time for preparation and reaction. These forecasts will be available through the SERVIR-Africa website. Currently, Hong’s team has implemented a global and regional hydrological prediction system forced by near real-time satellite rainfall and atmospheric modeled forecasts (

Funded by the NOAA/Climate Assessment Program, an additional project is investigating and transferring the climate mitigation and adaptation lessons learned in the US Southern Great Plains to Africa and the Himalaya region.

The twenty-first century is arguably "the century of water." Most places in the world already face water-related problems including water shortage and floods that can impact food availability, cause epidemics, and threaten life and infrastructure. In addition to these problems, one of the major manifestations of Earth’s climate change would be in terms of water cycling, which includes changes in regional precipitation regimes, evapotranspiration/evaporation rates and the frequency and severity of meteorological and hydrological extremes (e.g., severe weather, floods and droughts). Such changes would in turn impact water management, agriculture, construction, transportation, communications, marketing and energy production, among other human activities. These problems are having the greatest impact on low income communities of the developing world, where vital economic dependence on water resources, combined with high population growth and low investment capacity, exacerbate vulnerability to climate variability and change. The regional foci of Hong’s projects are East Africa (in particular Kenya and Ethiopia, which represent two of the poorest countries of the developing world and simultaneously the most vulnerable to climate change impacts) and the Himalaya region (Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan). The scientific focus is on the interactions between climate, water and livelihood patterns that constitute the fundamental building blocks for understanding vulnerability of these impoverished agriculture-driven societies to climate variability and to develop adaptation capacity at both the local and regional levels.