Thursday, 9 October 2008

The World As We Know It

In 1999, the six billionth person was born.

In 2008, more than 50% of the world's 6.6 billion inhabitants will live in urban areas.

By 2030, more than 5 billion people will live in cities and nearby surrounding areas.

Today, ten thousand people will die from preventable water-borne illness. Over half of these people will be children.

Pour a glass of water. Go ahead... take a sip. Refreshing? Be thankful you live in a country that gives you clean drinking water. At least, you won't die today from diarrhea, hepatitis A, or typhoid fever. Unfortunately, someone else isn't as fortunate.

Depressing? Yeah, it sounds a little dramatic. Accurate?? Yes, unfortunately.

I'm not one who wants to guilt every living American or European into reading about or donating for a cause that they don't truly understand. Rather, let me learn along with you about world water issues and what we can do to make a difference.

First, let me explain where this journey begins...

My name is Julia Jones, and I am a senior biomedical engineering major at the University of Cincinnati located in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. A few years ago, I was where the majority of Americans find themselves now -- pleasantly oblivious to life outside American borders. With typical days filled with class, studying, and meeting up with friends, I was basically content.

Then sophomore year hit...

Swamped with piles of mid-term reports and exams, I became frustrated with my self-involved life and began to wonder, "Is there something more I could be doing with my time?"

Surfing through dozens of Facebook profiles of long-forgotten acquaintances, I felt a twinge of jealously while flipping through study abroad pictures from Paris, Prague, and St. Petersburg. Never leaving the country (except for the occasional trip to Canada), I began to think to myself, "Honestly, what's stopping me from seeing a bit of the world?"

And that was how I was bitten by the "travel bug"...

A year later, I found myself sitting on a direct flight heading from Cincinnati to London Gatwick Airport. Traveling with a fellow classmate, Bill, neither of us knew what to expect of our semester at the University of Surrey in England, but we were both ready to tackle the unknown and backpack across Europe while juggling a full and challenging class load. Though England may not be all that different from the United States, Bill and I spent several weekends country-hopping to Ireland, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, and Scotland. Picking up the languages as we traveled, we both had a blast trying new foods, seeing historic sights, and dabbling in dozens of famous museums. (You can read about it all on my European travel blog:

Returning home 15 weeks later, I suddenly found myself uncharacteristically interested in global issues. Reading about foreign politics, economics, and humanitarian issues of the places I had previously visited left me feeling somehow connected to these countries that had shown me great hospitality during my visit. Rather than being cured of my "travel bug", I suddenly found myself wanting not only to travel again but also do something meaningful while abroad. Soon after, I met Dr. Dan Oerther.

Dr. Oerther is a Civil and Environmental Engineering professor here at the University of Cincinnati. Having spent many years abroad, Dr. Oerther has led several clean-water projects in developing nations including Kenya, Tanzania, and India. Pairing up with the University of Cincinnati Honors Program, Dr. Oerther and his colleague, Dr. Eric Maurer decided to offer an interdisciplinary design class to evaluate and implement clean-water technologies in Gujarat, India. At the conclusion of this 10-week class, fifteen students would travel with Drs. Oerther and Maurer to Gujarat to work with the Sadguru NGO (i.e. non-government organization).

Seeing not only an opportunity to travel again but also a chance to work with a prominent world-health issue, I petitioned to turn this class into my senior design project by picking up a few extra hours of independent study. Eventually receiving approval from the Biomedical Engineering Department, I found myself digging around my apartment for my passport and penciling in travel plans on my student planner.

So where does that leave me now? With two weeks into class, I find myself starting to pick up the basics of water technology, Indian population demographics, and cultural design parameters. Working with a team of architects, marketing majors, and engineers, our research has already begun. Will we be able to save the world? Probably not, but perhaps we'll be able to do something that makes a difference.

So there you have it... I'm not much different from the average American reading this blog. I have no experience in water technology, and I've never even seen Asia outside of my favorite Chinese restaurant. You may not be able to fly to India on a whim, but I encourage you to learn with me. Read along during the following weeks to discover more about world health issues, the culture of developing nations, available water technologies, and how even small improvements can save lives.

I have no idea where this project might lead or what we may accomplish at this point... but trust me, the journey to the end is half the fun!

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