Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fawcett Wins 2011 OU International Water Prize

The 2011 University of Oklahoma International Water Prize was presented to Mr. Ben Fawcett, co-author of the milestone book The Last Taboo: Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis, on October 24, 2011 at the OU International WaTER Conference Banquet by Dr. Berrien Moore, III. Following the presentation of the award, Mr. Fawcett delivered a plenary address to conference attendees entitled "Another 'Great Stink' is Needed: Sanitation and Hygiene in Poor Urban Areas," which emphasized the importance of improved sanitation for public health and the global economy.

The purpose of the OU International Water Prize is to recognize and honor an individual who has made significant international contributions through research, teaching or service activities in the field of water supply and sanitation with a focus on the world's poorest living in small villages/communities in rural or remote regions. It is a biennial award sponsored by the WaTER Center at the University of Oklahoma and made possible by generous gifts from alumni and friends. In 2009 and 2011, the winner received a $25,000 cash reward.

The winner is selected by a committee of five jurors, all notable WASH professionals in their own right, a year before the Prize is awarded. The jurors each propose a nominee and present his/her accomplishments. The jurors then use a positive elimination process to hone in on the one individual who best meets the criteria for the Prize.

Jurors for the 2011 WaTER Prize Winner included:
  • Robert Adamski - V.P. for Municipal Infrastructure Programs, Gannett Fleming
  • Diana Betancourt - Regional Manager for Central America, Water for People
  • Jean McCluskey - former Global WASH Cluster Manager for UNICEF
  • James Mihelcic - Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of South Florida
  • Feleke Zewge - Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
Mr. Fawcett is the second recipient of the OU International Water Prize. He is an environmental health engineer, development practitioner, speaker, mentor, researcher, and author with three decades of extensive international experience. He has assisted many non-governmental organizations (e.g., Oxfam, Red Cross, Water Aid, Save the Children, and Engineers without Borders) and governments in the participatory planning, implementation and evaluation of development, humanitarian, and emergency relief programs related to water and sanitation.

Fawcett’s impact has been felt in countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. During his tenure at Southampton University from 1996-2006 he mentored 130 MSc and Ph.D. students who have continued through their work to impact over 60 countries. He has focused a significant part of his writing on gender and sanitation, two issues often forgotten and yet critical if the world is to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is his leadership and vision in coauthoring with Maggie Black the milestone book, The Last Taboo:Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis, the release of which was timed with the 2008 International Year of Sanitation.

Laura Brunson Takes a Passage to India

Skeletal fluorosis in India was the subject of a research trip by a University of Oklahoma Ph.D. fellow in Environmental Science and a master’s student in Public Health and Industrial Hygiene.In December 2010, Laura Brunson was awarded the T.H. Lee Williams International Travel Scholarship from the OU Graduate College.  The award made it possible for her to travel to Nagpur, India, where she presented research at an international water conference. 

Brunson is a Ph.D. student in Environmental Science at OU’s Norman campus. She also is an EPA STAR fellow and a Robert Hughes Centennial fellow. Brunson was accompanied on this trip by Aimee Barrett, a Master’s student in Public Health and Industrial Hygiene at OU’s Health Sciences campus in Oklahoma City.Together, the women represented OU’s WaTER Center. They traveled to India in January during the holiday break where they spent several weeks learning more about water quality and fluoride issues.

During this time they met with many researchers at the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute of India (NEERI), visited water treatment facilities in several communities, met with people struggling with the effects of consuming elevated fluoride concentrations (dental and skeletal fluorosis), visited a community managed water treatment system, and asked many questions.  Both agreed it was helpful to have both a student from engineering and a student from public health on the trip because each offered a different perspective on the water issues being studied and each had a different set of questions and interests. 

The joint effort allowed both to gain more insight from the trip. 
Brunson said that although most of the research focused on fluoride removal, researchers also take into account the role of nutrition. For future research and collaboration, researchers now are looking at involving someone from the medical perspective such as a doctor or nurse.
“I found the trip very informative and culturally enriching,” Barrett said. “The exposure to knowledgeable researchers and innovative approaches to water issues provided essential applied knowledge necessary for tackling real-world problems affecting people around the world. As a student and future professional, it has given me something to aspire towards." 
Brunson and Barrett gained helpful knowledge for their current graduate research and were inspired by the people they visited with to continue moving forward with future research ideas.  Both graduate students are considering ways to facilitate further collaborations between engineering and public health at OU. 
Towards the end of the visit Barrett returned to OU for a work event and Brunson attended the International Conference on Sustainable Water Resource Management and Treatment Technologies.

The opportunity to present at the conference came about after a drinking water research trip to Ethiopia in 2010. During that trip, Brunson and her advisor, Dr. David Sabatini, met Pawan Labhasetwar, director of the Water Technology and Management division at NEER.  Dr. Labhasetwar is also conducting extensive research on fluoride mitigation and encouraged Brunson and Sabatini to submit an abstract for the conference in India.  The conference was attended by over 300 delegates representing 17 countries.

At the conference Brunson presented research conducted under the umbrella of the OU WaTER Center titled, “Innovative and Sustainable Technologies for Treatment of Drinking Water with Elevated Fluoride Concentrations” and co-chaired a presentation session.   The international conference offered increased exposure for the work being conducted at OU and a great opportunity for Brunson to network with and learn from many researchers and practitioners.

“The opportunity to learn from and connect with researchers working on water issues from all around India was amazing!” Brunson said.  Brunson’s research focuses on sustainable methods for fluoride removal from drinking water and social entrepreneurial methods of implementing water treatment solutions in developing regions. 
Additional funding for this trip was generously provided by the College of Engineering, the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and the WaTER Center.  Barrett's research focus is bacterial contamination in point of use drinking water in developing regions and she looks forward to working on international public health issues in the future.

[This content is taken from The University of Oklahoma publication, GRADView, Vol. 4, No. 1, December 2011 Fall Issue.]

New Field Methods Course Offered in May

Many health problems can be ameliorated by simple drinking water and sanitation systems, making life more comfortable for millions of people across the globe. A new Field Methods course, to be offered this May, is a hands-on practicum covering skills necessary for construction and implementation of water and sanitation projects in developing countries. Course modules are chosen to reflect the typical projects and types of skills needed by development workers in organizations such as Peace Corps, USAID, Engineers Without Borders, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

The first offering of the course will include training and practice in:
  • water quality field sampling and analysis
  • community baseline health surveys
  • household water treatment technologies
  • biosand filter construction
  • latrine types and construction
  • well drilling and development
  • topographical surveying

The emphasis will be on technologies that are appropriate to and sustainable in emerging regions.  The course will meet 6 hours per day for a 3-week period (May Intersession) and will consist of both fieldwork (80-90%) and class time (10-20%). All majors will be welcome to take this course, as the WaTER Center values holistic and multi-faceted solutions to water and sanitation problems. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Welcome to WaTER Drops!

Beginning with this very first issue, the OU WaTER Center will be sending out a bi-monthly newsletter of research, events, and happenings in our world of water and sanitation for emerging regions. This is our way of both saying "thank you" to our many friends and partners and a format for updating you periodically on our work and wanderings across the globe. Founded in 2006, the mission of the WaTER Center is to promote peace by advancing health, education, and economic development through sustainable water and sanitation solutions for impoverished regions, using innovative teaching, research, and service / leadership activities. Enjoy the newsletter!!

Developing countries are replete with interventions that fail due to:

  • use of inappropriate technologies, 
  • failure to consider cultural / human factors, and 
  • failure to mobilize local entrepreneurs. 

The WaTER Center seeks to develop sustainable solutions that we believe are only possible through integrating technology, business and social understanding. The vision of the WaTER Center is to pioneer integrated solutions that revolutionize development and adoption of sustainable water and sanitation technologies for developing countries through teaching, research and service innovations. We will do this through integrating technological, business and human factors in pursuit of sustainable water and sanitation solutions.

For more information about our history and mission, and the people and partners involved in our work, visit our website at

In the meantime, enjoy this newsletter. See you again in two months!

Visit and Seminar from Dr. Kara Nelson

On January 27, Dr. Kara Nelson spent a full day of meetings and talks and lunches with both students and faculty at the University of Oklahoma. She awed students with her personal account of how her current career evolved in response to various stimuli - intellectual, geographic, and romantic! Kara is an Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D., U.C. Davis). Her research program addresses critical issues at the intersection of public health and the environment, with a focus on reducing the threat posed by waterborne pathogens by improving our engineering infrastructure to make it more effective, affordable, as well as to maximize its environmental benefits. She currently conducts research in the United States, Mexico, Ghana, India, and Bolivia. 

Billions of people in the developing world rely on drinking water sources that are periodically contaminated with pathogens. Many water sources that are considered “improved” according to the definition used to measure progress toward the Millennium Development Goals do not actually meet the World Health Organization’s guidelines for safe drinking water. Approaches to prevent contamination of drinking water supplies, and to provide reliable treatment of contaminated supplies, are urgently needed. 

In her talk, Dr. Nelson discussed two dramatically different approaches for providing microbiologically safe drinking water. The first approach relies on the municipal utility to treat the water and distribute it through a piped network. This approach is the norm in cities throughout the world, but in most developing country cities the water is not supplied continuously. Unfortunately, intermittent supply leaves the water pipes vulnerable to contamination during periods of low or negative pressure; in addition, households must invest in additional infrastructure, such as storage containers and pumps. Results from an ongoing research project in Hubli-Dharwad, India, were shown comparing the contamination in a water system that is supplied intermittently with one that is supplied continuously.

The second approach to providing microbiologically safe drinking water is for individuals to treat their water themselves. Solar Disinfection (SODIS) is one common option for household water treatment. Dr. Nelson presented results from research conducted in Bolivia investigating how SODIS works, as well as recommendations for how to make treatment more effective. 

In addition to teaching and research, Dr. Nelson is the faculty leader of the Research Thrust Area on Safe Water and Sanitation at the Berkeley Water Center, as well as the lead PI on a large multidisciplinary Safe Water and Sanitation Initiative funded through the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Dr. Nelson received the PECASE award in 2004.