Environmental Protection

USAID Awards $8.5 M to UNC Project in Southeast Asia

A program started at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received an award of up to $8.5 million over five years from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The funding will help expand a project to bring clean drinking water and improved sanitation and hygiene to homes in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

The program, called WaterSHED (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Enterprise Development), is a joint effort among UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, Kenan-Flagler Business School, and the Kenan Institute-Asia.

Researchers will search for sustainable ways to increase the use of ceramic or biosand water filters in homes that lack clean drinking water, to help reduce diarrhea and related diseases that kill nearly 2 million children a year. They will also investigate ways to achieve financially sustainable, scaled-up access to safe water sources, such as harvested rainwater; improved sanitation, including latrines; and greater practice of personal hygiene, especially hand washing with soap at critical times.

The USAID award will be managed by the public health school. Mark Sobsey, Ph.D., Kenan Professor of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, is the principal investigator. His team will partner with colleagues in the business school to address research issues associated with commercially marketing public health products in Asia. Other partners include the East Meets West Foundation, EnterpriseWorks/VITA, International Development Enterprises, Lien Aid, and the World Toilet Organization. Marion Jenkins, Ph.D., of the University of California-Davis, and Joe Brown, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa are key research partners.

The award grew out of the Carolina Global Water Partnership, one of the first Gillings Innovation Laboratories funded through a $50 million gift to the public health school from Dennis and Joan Gillings.

“We have come a long way in proving the effectiveness and sustainability of affordable water filters that are affordable, easy to make, and simple to use,” Sobsey said. “Now we need to find ways to make the production, distribution, and use of these filters sustainable in the developing world, and at a scale where the majority of people gain access to safe water. Effectively linking safe water to adequate water sources, proper sanitation, and good hygiene through hand washing is also essential for achieving healthy and productive lives and communities. It’s tragic to have technologies that can save millions of lives and not be able to get them to those who need them most. That’s what this project is all about.”

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