EWB-UMCP has been partnering with the small town of Dissin, located in the South-West region of Burkina Faso, since 2007. A graduate student from Burkina whose family still lives in Dissin approached EWB-UMCP with the idea for a solar project here. Sixteen villages surround Dissin along dusty red dirt roads that radiate out from the city center. Malnutrition, dysentery, malaria and respiratory infections are the most common health problems. The priests at the mission and nuns who run a women’s educational center have been our hosts and partners in providing the community of Dissin with sustainable engineering solutions for their water and energy needs.
The rural villages of Dissin, Burkina Faso rely heavily on four government-funded medical centers located within their communities. Unlike the city center, the small size and relative isolation of these individual villages prevents them from receiving electricity from the already limited national electric grid. Nurses at the clinics rely upon villagers to help them carry water to the clinics each morning where it is stored in rusted metal tanks. Likewise, in the past, nurses often handled nighttime births by candle or flashlight out of necessity. Finally, unsanitary water handling and storage conditions leave water bacterially contaminated by the time it reaches clinic patients.
The EWB-UMCP Response
In January 2012, a team from the University of Maryland chapter of Engineers Without Borders returned to Dissin, Burkina Faso to implement a solar powered water supply and sanitation system for a rural health clinic. The Done health clinic serves a community of 8,000 and performs 250 births a year, previously without any electricity or running water.
The team installed two pumps and system of tanks that pump water from the clinic’s well, clean the water with a slow-sand filter, and pump the clean water to a distribution tank on the roof of the clinic. The pumps are powered by batteries, which also provide lights at night and are charged by solar panels.
During the three-semester long design phase, the team focused on limiting the number of components to simplify the use of the system. During construction, the focus was on the maintainability of the system, which was achieved mostly through extensive education and training of the clinic staff and others in the community who helped to build the system.