Work being led by scientists Professor Huw Taylor and Dr James Ebdon, based in our Geography, Geology and Environment division, won national recognition at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2015 held at the Grosvenor House Hotel on 28 November.
The project was ‘Highly Commended’ at the THE awards in the International Collaboration of the Year category and relates to work in Malawi, where 1,000 children under five die from water-related illnesses every month. By improving drinking water and sanitation these diseases can be reduced by nearly 90%.
Huw and James, working in collaboration with the University of Malawi, were commissioned by UNICEF to investigate options for the provision of safe water in rural Malawi. According to the team ‘this project provided the scientific evidence that was urgently needed to demonstrate the risk of waterborne disease to rural Malawian communities and to support immediate improvements that have provided safer drinking water for thousands of people’.
The team went from village to village, assessing the influence of water-point design, proximity to sanitary sources, and rainfall on the provision of safe water and identified the conditions that could achieve this.
The project combined Malawian geotechnical expertise and local knowledge with UK water quality expertise to train Malawian team members and embed technical knowledge locally. The project offers a valuable blueprint for new ways to reduce excreta-related disease associated with water supply and sanitation.
The project, considered one of the most ambitious of its kind, remains the most comprehensive water quality investigation ever to have been conducted in Malawi. More than 880 samples from water sources (serving 150,000 people) were studied for the presence of microbiological contamination.
Sanitary surveys were also conducted at each location, using interpreters to ensure effective communication between the researchers and members of the local communities. The onset of the rainy season made travel to remote communities very difficult and severe fuel shortages provided challenges. However, excellent working relationships between the researchers and local NGOs allowed teams to overcome these barriers and successfully complete the project.
The winning entry was King’s College London’s work, centred on its partnership with Sierra Leone’s College of Medicine and Allied Health Science, the country’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation and its main referral hospital, the Connaught.