Tarleton aids Ethiopian water quality improvement project

Tarleton State University students (from left) Demetrio Navarette, Alex Luce, Alyssa Lahmon and Jacob James prepare LifeStraw water filters for distribution in Gondar, Ethiopia during a recent study abroad applied learning experience.

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STEPHENVILLE (June 11, 2015) — Halfway across the globe in Ethiopia’s rural regions, where 20 years of drought have taken their toll, women and children walk up to six hours to collect water from shallow ponds that also are used for bathing, washing dishes and clothing, and watering livestock. The jugs they carry to bring water to their families weigh up to 40 pounds.

During a recent trip to northwest Ethiopia, Leah Taylor, project manager for the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research (TIAER) at Tarleton State University, saw the impact of Ethiopia’s water crisis reflected in a mother’s eyes.

“It was an almost speechless experience since we didn’t share the same language,” Taylor said of meeting the single Ethiopian mother and her four young sons. “I don’t know what it was, but they touched me. You could see so much love and so much pain in her eyes and so much innocence in theirs. She took all of the pain so her children didn’t feel it.”

Help is on the way for Ethiopia from Tarleton, where Taylor and her professional colleagues at TIAER are kicking off a fundraising campaign seeking $1.8 million to finance a National Laboratory and Water Quality Improvement Project for the Ethiopian Watershed Management Consortium.

In a country where it’s common for families to not have running water, clean water, or access to either, poor water quality affects Ethiopians’ health. Many citizens carry intestinal parasites for years. Bacteria from animal and human fecal matter affect their teeth and skin. Of the country’s 96.6 million residents, more than half lack safe water, and 75 million Ethiopians, don’t have access to adequate sanitation services.

The laboratory improvement initiative is the first project for the consortium, which was created in 2014 after Tarleton President Dominic Dottavio, traveled to Ethiopia to explore partnership opportunities that would benefit water quality in Ethiopia.

The consortium, which Taylor describes as a “partnership among universities,” is made up of TIAER at Tarleton and eight Ethiopian schools: Addis Ababa University, Aksum University, Bahir Dar University, the University of Gondar, Hawassa University, Haramaya University, Jimma University and the University of Mekelle.

“We’re trying to improve water quality in Ethiopia through practices that TIAER has utilized with great success in Texas,” Taylor said, explaining TIAER’s involvement in the consortium. “This project will benefit the whole country of Ethiopia as well as individual families.”

The goal of the consortium’s laboratory project is to improve water quality research in Ethiopia. The first phase will be to assess laboratories and equipment at the eight partnering universities. Ethiopia’s existing university laboratories are small, under-funded, and operating with broken or outdated equipment.

Mark Murphy, TIAER’s laboratory manager and co-manager of the project with Taylor, will visit all of the partnering universities to conduct the assessment. Murphy has 30 years’ experience in laboratory management and worked on a similar project in Samoa.

The project’s second phase will establish and implement standard operating procedures and quality control methods for water testing. This phase also includes purchasing and setting up necessary laboratory supplies, and training field and laboratory technicians. The third phase is to build a uniform database that will be used throughout Ethiopia to analyze water quality.

The laboratory equipment needed to provide reliable testing is very expensive, so Taylor believes TIAER’s funding request for the consortium’s first project is reasonable.

“Once we equip the universities with modern testing and analysis equipment, we can learn all of the impairments in Ethiopian water supplies,” she said. “Then we’ll know how to reduce those impairments just like we do in watershed protection all over Texas.”

TIAER presented information about creating the Ethiopian Watershed Consortium to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations last fall and provided details of the consortium’s laboratory and water improvement project to the organization in February.

The Food and Agriculture Organization will aid the consortium and TIAER in finding funding partners for the project. Funding is welcome from international, national, and private foundations and donors, Taylor said.

Once funding is in place, the consortium’s laboratory and water improvement project will be underway for about 17 months until the universities begin compiling water quality data in a nationwide database.

Plans call for TIAER’s management of the Ethiopian Watershed Consortium to continue far into the future, bringing Texas environmental technology and know-how to the other side of the world.

“After this first project, I hope Ethiopia can be self-sufficient in monitoring its drinking water,” Taylor said. “Long-term, I hope for overall water quality improvement for the health of Ethiopians and for the country’s agricultural health.”

For more information on the Ethiopian laboratory and water quality improvement project, contact Leah Taylor atltaylor@tiaer.tarleton.edu or 254-968-0513 or Mark Murphy at mmurphy@tiaer.tarleton.edu or 254-968-9570.

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