UNH Students Without Borders Draw Water From Sand
By Debra JohnyBear, College of Engineering & Physical Sciences
April 25, 2007
Working hand in hand with locals: graduate student Matt Polzin and
professor Eric Reitter, work with a villager in Niger to assemble the
animal power wheel for a rope and washer pump designed by Students Without
UNH’s Students Without Borders (SWB) is participating in the
Environmental Protection Agency’s National Sustainable Design
Expo in Washington, D.C. April 24 and 25 with its “Water from
the Sand” project.
SWB is the UNH chapter of the Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA)
program, a non-profit humanitarian organization that partnerships with
foreign communities to implement sustainable engineering projects. For
this project SWB collaborated with RAIN for the Sahel and Sahara (RAIN),
a non-profit organization based in neighboring town of Newmarket. RAIN’s
mission is to develop and support residential schools for children of
the semi-nomadic Tuareg people.
The Expo on the National Mall is the showcase for EPA’s third
annual P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) Award competition. More
than 300 college and university students from around the country and
their faculty advisors will be exhibiting their designs for a sustainable
tomorrow and competing for the prestigious EPA P3 Awards.
When UNH’s SWB arrived in Niger in January of 2007 to implement
their low-technology pumping system, either animal-powered water extraction
with trench irrigation or gasoline-powered pumps with drip irrigation
methods were employed. While drip irrigation is the preferred method,
utilizing non-renewable resources for energy is not.
The challenge of this project is significant in the developing world,
specifically in the Air Massif region of Niger, the poorest country
in the world. A sustainable water extraction system is needed to irrigate
community gardens. These gardens produce a basic need – food --
for children attending boarding schools as well as a cash crop for funding
of these boarding schools, which receive little or no funding from the
With schools offering education, better nutrition, and a place for
the children of the semi-nomadic Tuareg people to live, more parents
will be supportive of children attending school, and more children will
become educated (current literacy rate is less than 12%).
During their January visit, SWB was able to design a culturally acceptable,
easily understood (by the students and locals) sustainable and efficient
water extraction system, an animal-powered rope and washer pump. The
pump is successful at delivering the necessary water for the garden
The design consists of a pump that extracts water from a well into
a cistern for use in a drip irrigation system. The pump system is powered
by a harnessed camel walking in a circular path. The pump operates at
six gallons per minute, needing about five hours of operation each day.
The camel will eventually not need the gardener’s assistance to
walk the circle; it will learn to do it on its own.
Animal power-especially camel power-is common in Niger, very reliable
and culturally acceptable as well. Although there were challenges during
the actual construction, it was a group effort by the students, mentor,
and villagers. The necessary materials were obtained and the villagers
offered labor and time to the project. Because the pump design and operation
are culturally acceptable and easily understood, the villagers are using
it and will be able to perform any required maintenance.
The Water from the Sand project makes huge strides in sustainability
and ties in people, prosperity, and planet. The unsustainable gasoline-powered
pump was replaced with an efficient animal-powered pump made primarily
with local materials. Besides the materials being local, many of them
were also recycled.
The bearing for the animal power wheel was an old car bearing. The
washers for the pump were made by local women leather artisans from
recycled tires. A local welder made the frame from the pump from locally
available materials. Recycled tires were also used for the wheels for
moving the rope through the rope and washer pump.
Students Kim Morris, Katie Brown, and Tim Corrigan work with Villagers
in Niger to implement a rope and washer pump the students designed.
The people of Niger (Tuareg and children) and the U.S. (students and
engineers) have been impacted positively by this project. By increasing
opportunities for better education and nutrition, this area of Niger
can become more prosperous. Also, this project was conducted keeping
sustainability in mind the entire time. Besides helping the planet by
doing this, the project became even more culturally acceptable and simple
for many to understand.
This project is intended to be a transferable technology. The desire
for SWB to speak about their experiences to many people from schools
to professional societies demonstrates the group’s commitment
to maximizing the overall impacts of this project.
The following UNH students traveled to Washington for the P3 Competition:
Whitney Blanchard (graduate student, environmental engineering), Lonni
Peterson (first-year, environmental engineering), Kim Morris (senior,
environmental engineering), Katie Brown (senior, public health), Naoufal
Souitat (graduate student, mechanical engineering). Other SWB students
involved in helping to prepare for travel and competition include Amanda
Loughlin (sophomore, environmental engineering), Michael Allard (junior,
mechanical engineering), Danielle Laroche (senior, public health).
At the Expo, students will show novel approaches for green design and
buildings, innovative alternative energy and materials, and clean drinking
water treatment technologies. For more information about the Expo and
the P3 Award competition, visit: www.epa.gov/P3 or contact Cynthia Nolt-Helms,
EPA National Center for Environmental Research, at nolt-helms.cynthia
or (202) 343-9693.
For additional information on SWB at UNH, go to http://www.unh.edu/ewb/.