The Maneater

MU’s Engineers Without Borders provides reliable water for town in Panama

The MU chapter of Engineers Without Borders is approaching the end of its project for clean water in Majé de Chimán, Panama. They have designed and began to implement water filtration, distribution and storage systems.

The Mizzou Engineers without Borders non-profit organization helped citizens in Majé de Chimán, Panama to receive cleaner water. courtesy of Mizzou Engineers without Borders via Facebook

MU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders envisions a world in which the communities it serves have the capacity to sustainably meet their basic human needs, according to its website. Its ongoing project in Central America is striving to make this a reality.

MU’s EWB has been working since 2013 to provide a reliable, clean water source for citizens of Majé de Chimán, Panama.

This village is fairly remote, lying in the middle of the jungle. Throughout the years, those who live there have dealt with persistent water quality and access issues.

“The current [water] source they have is a pipeline,” Kennedy Tunks, current president of the MU Chapter of EWB, said. “The water quality is not something we would be able to drink in America, but it’s something that works for them. Around March is the dry season in Panama, [so] that source almost completely dries up for about three months.”

When the dry season comes around, citizens will take large buckets to gather water at the river nearby. This river is the same river that their sewage dumps into, leaving those who drink from it susceptible to a number of health repercussions, particularly cholera.

According to EWB’s 2017 project manager Matthew McMahill, the government in Panama had not provided the village adequate aid despite their requests. EWB came into contact with the town after a member was informed of the plight through a LinkedIn contact.

EWB established contact in 2013. Since then, three trips have been made to the village by EWB members, McMahill said. Two assessment trips were made in August of 2014 and 2015, while one implementation trip was recently made over spring break 2018.

The assessment trips revolved around collecting data on the area.

“[We] hiked to the sources, tested water quality, tested elevation of what a pipeline would look like and if the water flow would be high enough to give the community enough water,” Tunks said.

EWB members also spent time building a relationship with the community they were serving.

“[We] really just kind of spoke with the community about what they wanted and what they felt was the biggest issue,” McMahill said. “We quickly realized that water quantity was definitely the highest issue on their list, and quality was way down.”

Using what they learned from these trips, EWB designed a water filtration and storage system in line with their preferences. Some alterations to their designs included finding alternatives to a chlorine drip when sanitizing the water.

During the most recent trip to Majé over spring break, they were working on clearing the path from the jungle to the waterfall for construction, Tunks said. Once workers begin laying pipe, construction should take about three to four months.

It is predicted that the project will be completed around September of 2018. After this, EWB members plan to return for a monitoring trip sometime over the following winter break.

“To see this through is such a cool experience,” Tunks said. “Especially after getting to meet the people that we genuinely care about: We know their names. To be able to help them is a feeling that makes engineers without borders unique.”

As EWB soon shifts into post-implementation work with Majé, it will begin a new project with a town in Ecuador.

Edited by Morgan Smith | mosmith@themaneater.com

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