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November 18, 2009

CCNY Student Engineers Discuss Water Projects At U.N.

Since 2005, the City College chapter of Engineers Without Borders (CCNY-EWB) has been working to bring fresh water to small villages in rural Honduras.  Earlier this month, chapter leaders Svetlana Fisher and Joanna Bonfiglio gave a presentation on their efforts to a panel on water issues held at the United Nations as part of Rotary International Day.  Later that day, CCNY-EWB was feted at a fundraiser cocktail party held by Rotaract at the United Nations, a young professionals division of Rotary.

Rotary International is a worldwide service club with over 33,000 chapters.  One of the goals of all its chapters is to bring clean water to developing areas of the world, explained Ms. Bonfiglio, a mechanical engineering major who serves as the chapter’s project manager.  Several Rotary and Rotaract chapters in Brooklyn, Long Island and Manhattan have helped support CCNY-EWB’s projects.Svetlana Fisher, left, and Joanna Bonfiglio with CCNY Engineers Without Borders delivered a presentation on the group's Honduran water projects at a Rotary International panel on water issues held at the United Nations.

In their 15-minute presentation, Ms. Fisher, a civil engineering major who is the chapter president, and Ms. Bonfiglio discussed CCNY-EWB’s two projects.  The current project is in Las Chicas, a community with just 32 homes.  There, the existing water system needed waterproofing of the storage tank, a new lid and pipe repairs.  The chapter conducted an assessment trip in August 2008 and implemented the project in January 2009.  

“When we first got to town, not everyone was getting water from the system,” she explained.  “People who couldn’t get water from the tank were drawing water from a contaminated stream.  We built enough latrines and water basins so that no one has to rely on that stream now.”

In the next phase, the chapter plans to install a chlorinator that will inject chlorine into the water system to prevent E.coli outbreaks, Ms. Bonfiglio said.  They also intend to address issues affecting the pipeline that runs from the system dam to its holding tank as well as damage to the tank from an earthquake last spring.

Materials for the project are in place.  However, political unrest in Honduras could preclude CCNY-EWB from making a trip next January.  “We are waiting for the outcome of the next election,” she added.

CCNY-EWB’s first project, a water system for Nueva Suiza, a community of approximately 300 persons, was completed in 2008.  Chapter members return each year to do troubleshooting and monitor the dam, which has had leakage problems, Ms. Bonfiglio noted.

The chapter is planning a new initiative to improve the quality of life for Nueva Suiza’s residents; a ventilation project for the community’s wood-burning mud brick stoves.  These stoves lack chimneys, causing smoke to escape into people’s homes, which makes the living environment difficult and dangerous, Ms. Bonfiglio said.  According to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death of children under age five in the Third World, claiming two million lives a year.

See photos from the Las Chicas project on Facebook.