Water for life

Dr Saba Mebrahtu Habte and team
Former project lead Dr Saba Mebrahtu Habte (left) with team members from the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. The team is leading a program developing solar-powered purification technology to deliver clean water to those in need.

Oxfam donors and the Monash community have joined together to deliver clean, drinkable water to those in need.

Water is the most fundamental of human needs, and its scarcity remains one of the world’s most pressing issues. For many, the act of bathing or quenching one’s thirst is a daily battle that all too often ends in tragedy.

An estimated 844 million people do not have access to clean water – a shocking reality that sees millions die every year from diseases caused by contaminated water. And as the human population increases and the climate changes, the need to secure a safe water supply intensifies.

Recognising this, Monash University has allied with Oxfam to create the Oxfam–Monash Partnership (OMP). It’s part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), and seeks to find innovative solutions to global challenges.

In a bid to provide clean, potable water, OMP research and development teams created a desalination system that uses solar-powered membrane-separation technology to remove contaminants. And your support is funding crucial field testing that will enable its introduction into communities.

Eleanor Jackson of MSDI says the best way to create change is to work with communities and give people agency over their own lives. It’s this, combined with rigorous research, that forges new solutions to entrenched problems. And, she says, by joining the best of Monash’s meticulous academia with Oxfam’s hands-on approach, positive outcomes for some of the world’s most vulnerable people can be created.

“The foresight and support of our donors has been crucial to developing this innovative technology solution, which has the potential to benefit some of the most vulnerable people across the world.” – Eleanor Jackson

Water from the sun

The desalination system treats brackish water to make it safe for humans, providing a cost-effective and energy-efficient solution
to water scarcity in both developing countries and regional areas. The solar-driven water purification system achieves continuous clean water production with almost 100 per cent salt removal.

As program lead, Eleanor says the solution is lifesaving, and is one of the most exciting and potentially impactful projects in which she’s been involved.

“Ultimately, the goal is to bestow clean, hygienic drinking water on those in remote and off-grid areas, who are dealing with the ramifications of poor water quality,” she says.

Impacts from a lack of clean water can be profound and far-reaching, wracking communities with death and disease. Children are often riddled with infection and, if they survive, can be permanently weakened and their growth stunted, and their brain development can suffer.

The benefits of clean water and hygienic conditions to families are evident. In developing countries, mothers have reported their children are healthier and more active. They have more energy and are more inquisitive and exuberant.

Supporting Act

The desalination technology and the OMP would not have occurred without the generosity and the belief of several parties, such as Percy Baxter Charitable Trust and Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation. And just as crucial to its success are big-hearted donors like you who support it.

Donations will play an important role in the success of the desalination system, Eleanor says. They will support its field testing, local redesign and scaling up of the system, which in turn will increase access to clean water for – and the health and wellbeing of – many people.

MSDI donors are helping to provide safe, clean water to those in need and, therefore, are contributing to the health and autonomy of people’s lives.

As the knowledge and innovation on the topic continually expands, Eleanor says it’s a challenging – but exciting – time to be involved in the project and to change the world for good.

“I am pleased to play a role in this project and the potentially profound impact of our innovative and low-cost water treatment system,” Eleanor says.

“It could save lives and improve the health and livelihood of people in many remote and off-grid communities across the world. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Sustainable Development Goals

In 2016, Monash signed a landmark commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals laid down by the United Nations, with the University pledging its dedication to bringing worldwide economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. The 17 goals include targets for global health, education, gender equality, justice, employment and climate change, and among them is a goal of universally accessible clean water and sanitation.

With Monash, you can play a fundamental role in ending water scarcity and achieving equitable access to safe and affordable water for all.

Read more about Monash’s goals here.

More information

To find out more about innovative engineering solutions for global problems, contact Ciara O’Donnell at ciara.odonnell@monash.edu.

Words: Tiffany Paczek; Photo: Daniel Mahon