Diarrhoeal diseases result in approximately 1.8 million deaths worldwide every year. In many cases this is due to a lack of access to clean water. The problem is particularly acute in Vanuatu where much of the population is isolated from established infrastructure and too under-resourced to support water treatment facilities.
Sensor technology that enables communities to better assess, preserve and manage their water supply is an attractive solution to this problem. But how do we build a technology that is accurate, sensitive and specific enough to detect water contamination? And how do we ensure that it is also engineered to meet a community's needs, skills and environment?
This project, supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will embed communities in the technology innovation process to design appropriate technologies for testing water quality. To achieve this goal we have established a close partnership between communities in Vanuatu and a multi-disciplinary team of York academics, led by Dr Steven Johnson of the Department of Electronic Engineering.
In addition to developing an appropriate technology for ensuring water safety, we will also deliver a generic process for participatory technology development that will ensure science and engineering works effectively for the poor and marginalised.
We ran a series of workshops with four communities across Vanuatu led by colleagues in the Stockholm Environment Institute at York and Oxfam. They aimed to embed community members in the process of technology innovation. Critically, the workshops provided an opportunity for community members to use their local expertise and knowledge to co-design a water monitoring technology that is sustainable and meets the needs and skills of the community.
We have now constructed a prototype water sensor that is designed according to the communities' specifications, which is currently undergoing testing in our laboratories at York.
We will return to Vanuatu early in 2020, when we will deliver the technology for extended testing within the four communities.