The Telford Challenge and the partnerships set up under it will play a vital role in eliminating the basic causes of poverty and finding sustainable ways of helping local people improve their lives.
Around 60% of the world population is in poverty, lacking the resources to fulfil the basic needs of water, food, shelter, education and health.
Lack of water means poor agricultural production and insufficient household food, long journeys to wells, poor sanitation, high incidence of water-related diseases, poor health and high infant and maternal mortality.
Without water there can be no hydropower energy, and there is increased deforestation and land degradation, as the main source of energy for domestic use is firewood. Poor earth roads, lack of transport to villages, lack of telephones or radios (people don’t even dream of a TV) means that communications remain weak.
Poverty is further aggravated by high population growth, high prevalence of HIV/Aids (12% among Malawi’s rural adults), significant gender imbalance and weak government institutional structures.
Through partnership, nationally and internationally, the Telford Challenge will help identify priorities and devise ways that will help eliminate poverty.
Engineers working through the Telford Challenge can raise the standard of living in poor villages with practical solutions, including the provision of safe water using boreholes fitted with locally made hand pumps, or by cost-effective solar energy. Such solutions also include installation of cost-effective sanitation and waste treatment systems.
Access to energy supplies can be improved through rural electrification using micro-hydropower and solar energy.
Housing can be improved by cost-effective durable housing systems; many houses in my village are dilapidated, grass-thatched and leaking.
Better living standards will depend on better communications, including cost-effective ways of maintaining roads and telecommunications.
Water provides just one example of what it is possible to achieve. Malawi is rich in groundwater resources. By installing boreholes and handpumps, water-related diseases will be reduced. Water will also be used to irrigate gardens for growing vegetables.
Community involvement is essential after the boreholes have been installed. A village water committee will be provided with equipment to carry out maintenance.
In this project, mechanical engineers can be involved in manufacturing pumps, while electrical engineers can make cost-effective solar energy panels, as an alternative to human energy for pumping water. Civil and chemical engineers can be involved in drilling boreholes and ensuring acceptable water quality.
Young engineers like myself, with local knowledge and Telford Challenge support, will be able to develop education, health, communication, community welfare, and water and energy conservation measures in the village, all of which have a direct effect in reducing poverty.
David Mhango is studying for a PhD in civil engineering at Strathclyde University