Clean water for urban poor

The five-year project, funded by a $14 million grant from the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom and support from the Asian Development Bank, will test innovative waste management solutions.

BY KATE STANTON

About 2.3 billion people around the world have inadequate access to clean water and basic sanitation, which can worsen the threat of disease, poverty and even violence. The problem is particularly severe in crowded urban slums.

But a global research project led by Monash University hopes to transform water sanitation practices in the world’s poorest urban communities.

Monash researchers are working with local officials and organisations to build new water infrastructure systems that are safer, cleaner and healthier.

The Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy and Monash alumnus, Josh Frydenberg, announced in January that a group of researchers, led by Monash Professor Rebekah Brown, had been awarded nearly $30 million from global charitable institutions to begin implementing an alternative approach to water management in urban slums.

The five-year project, funded by a $14 million grant from the Wellcome Trust and support from the Asian Development Bank, will test innovative waste management solutions in 12 villages in Fiji and Indonesia.

Children running towards water, Tallo, Indonesia

Children running towards water, Tallo, Indonesia. Photo credit: RISE team

The results could be used to develop new water infrastructure policies in cities around the world.

Professor Brown, head of the University’s Sustainable Development Institute, will lead the project with help from Stanford and Emory Universities in the US, as well as the University of Melbourne.

It will also include work from Professor Tony Wong, CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre of Water Sensitive Cities, and Professor Karin Leader, head of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the School of Public Health.

Many of today’s ‘big pipe’ water systems emphasise highly-centralised methods of pumping water from reservoirs to cities, leading to a less reliable water supply and higher risk of contamination.

But Brown’s team will design and implement community specific water systems that incorporate innovative green technologies, such as stormwater harvesting, wastewater recycling and flood prevention.

The goal is to reduce contamination of the water supply to prevent the spread of diseases, such as diarrhoea and cholera.

The global population is becoming increasingly urbanised, leaving many countries with scant resources for supplying water to the poorest and most vulnerable.

And with polluted water and poor sanitation causing one in four deaths in developing countries, the University’s water infrastructure project could play a major role in the fight to improve global public health.