The Norman Transcript

Columns

September 17, 2012

Front lines of global water and sanitation

NORMAN — For The Transcript

Animal bone char is an effective water filter in Ethiopia, but offends some local religious traditions. In Cambodia, villagers are afraid of water with a chlorine smell, as chemical poisoning has been part of their history. In parts of Madagascar, a structure built to hold human feces (such as a latrine) is a cultural taboo. Solutions to water and sanitation problems are necessarily specific to both location and culture, and humanitarians must be keenly aware of prevailing customs and constraints.

OU International Water Prize winner Dr. Stephen Luby, M.D. has spent much of his career doing public health research in developing countries. He has worked as an epidemiologist in Pakistan where he studied the connections between lack of clean water, personal hygiene (such as handwashing), and the outbreak of disease. As director of a diarrheal research facility in Bangladesh, he and his family were daily confronted with the illness and deaths of children from preventable water borne diseases. For his courage and his work, Dr. Luby was awarded the Prize in 2009

Ben Fawcett is an environmental health engineer with three decades of extensive international experience. He has directed both public health projects and students in nearly every developing country on the planet, and is most passionate about people-centered development and improved sanitation. In 2008 he co-authored the landmark book, “The Last Taboo,” based on a decade of research on the global sanitation crisis, aiming to publicize the scandalous situation in which 40 percent of the world’s people have nowhere to ‘go’. Dr. Fawcett was awarded the 2011 OU International Water Prize.

The OU WaTER Center (Water Technologies for Emerging Regions) conducts research and education in drinking water and sanitation systems in areas of dire need, and implements promising solutions. Although, as Directors of the WaTER Center, we travel frequently to project sites, we also spend much of our time in a comfortable classroom, office or laboratory. The biennial Water Prize is a chance to publicly recognize the researchers on the “front line” who, through much self-sacrifice, are improving basic water and sanitation access for the world’s most impoverished citizens.

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