Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Showergy - A MIT Product Providing Water and Sanitation to Kenya

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, like other American Technology/Polytechnic Institutes, embody the entrepreneurial spirit of leveraging cutting-edge scientific research towards innovation of revolutionary technologies. The Latin motto of MIT, Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand), expresses MIT's duty to not only extend the boundary of scientific and engineering knowledge, but also ensure that it benefits the greater society.

MIT has many events, such as the famous $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, that bring out the best and brightest of the student body. However, the competition that best embodies the social responsibility aspects of Mens et Manus is perhaps the MIT Global Challenge Competition.

I have had the chance to mentor one of the competing teams in this year's competition. They have chosen to use their engineering skills and diverse insights to address a worthy challenge - increasing the availability of safe water and sanitation in Nairobi, Kenya.

A Global Social Challenge - Safe Water and Sanitation

During the United Nations Millenium Summit in 2000, eight UN Millenium Development Goals were established in order to reduce world poverty by 2015

  1. Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
  2. Achieve Universal Primary Education
  3. Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  4. Reduce Child Mortality
  5. Improve Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV / AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases
  7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability
  8. Develop a Global Partnership for Development 

Share of Population with No Access to Sanitation (Philippe Rekacewicz - Le Monde Diplomatique)
The availability of sanitation, a key step to achieving several of the millenium goals, is still a global crisis in developing countries:

  • 884 million people, about 1 in 8 of the world's population, do not have access to safe water. (WHO/UNICEF)
  • 2.6 billion people, almost 2 in 5 of the world's population, do not have access to adequate sanitation. (WHO/UNICEF)
  • 1.4 million children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. (WHO/WaterAid)
    • 4,000 child deaths a day or one child every 20 seconds, equating to 160 infant school classrooms lost every single day to an entirely preventable public health crisis. (WHO/WaterAid)
Share of Population with Access to Safe Drinking Water (Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal)
Another challenge in much of the developing world is not only the increasing scarcity of fresh water, but also the lack of proper civil infrastructure to properly distribute this water throughout the population:
  • 8 out of 10 people without safe water live in rural areas. (WHO/UNICEF)
  • 7 out of 10 people without sanitation live in rural areas. (WHO/UNICEF)
  • The weight of water that women in Africa and Asia carry on their heads is commonly 20kg, the same as the average UK airport luggage allowance. (HDR)
    • The average person in the developing world uses 10 litres of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking. (WSSCC)
    • The average European uses 200 litres of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking while North Americans use 400 litres. (HDR)

Based on current trends, over the next 20 years humans will use 40% more water than they do now. (UNEP)

Showergy - Safe and Portable Sanitation for Developing Countries

The Showergy MIT Global Challenge Project, in collaboration with the MIT Chapter of Engineers without Borders, is focusing on developing an inexpensive portable product that can easily be used in isolated regions of developing countries to help provide clean water and sanitation.

Tiffany Cheng, MIT Showergy Project Team Leader, describes the specific challenges of the rural poor in Kenya and the unique advantages of their Showergy product to overcome them:

Tiffany Cheng
MIT'12 - Course 1
Gordon Engineering Leader

"Showergy's objective is to design and construct a cost-effective, scalable shower system for use in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.  The project addresses two core issues in the area: sanitation and safety.  Requiring no electricity nor connection to the water grid, Showergy provides the local community, especially women and children, with a safe, closed, and clean environment to shower. Instead of risking assault by bathing in the river or walking to a faraway communal shower, people can shower near where they live.  Its small footprint of 3-by-5 feet allow it to be installed anywhere in the slums, making access to hygiene and sanitation much more prevalent.  Ultimately, the Showery product will augment existing facilities run by Sanergy, a sanitation company that currently focuses on manufacturing and implementing latrines for Kenyan slums."

Showergy Product Development Team

The most successful products addressing global issues are the result of the collaboration of cross-functional teams. Team Showergy is no exception!

Michelle Chen is a freshman studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. She has experience in building robots and other mechanical devices and is enthusiastic about contributing to the team's project.

Tiffany Cheng is a MIT Gordon Engineering Leader (GEL) and junior majoring in Environmental Engineering at MIT. She is the current Project Manager for the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter at MIT, along with Fausto Morales. An aspiring environmental engineer, Tiffany is most interested in water resources and sanitation systems and looks forward to expanding her knowledge in the field by leading the team.

Helen D'Couto is a junior in biology at MIT. She first became interested in international development by working with the EWB-Johnson Space Center chapter in high school. At MIT, she and Rebecca Heywood co-founded EWB-MIT and she served as project manager, getting their first project in Uganda going. Helen hopes to gain an understanding of urban based poverty as well as the cultural nuances surrounding urban sanitation systems through the current project.

Jesika Haria is a freshman at MIT. She is a member of the EWB Water team as well as the organizing committee for both the MIT $100K and MIT Energy Conference.

Jessy Mwarage is a MIT Gordon Engineering Leader (GEL) and junior majoring in Mechanical Engineering at MIT. He has experience in machining, instrumentation, and computing that will be useful in the design and implementation of this project. Because he is a native of Kenya, he is naturally interested in contributing and bringing his expertise to Showergy.

Jie-Yoon Yang is a sophomore double majoring in Biology and Physics at MIT. She has long been interested in international development during her time at MIT and is enthusiastic about applying her skills to developing innovative sanitation solutions for the developing world.

Product Design and Development (PDD)

Imagine not being able to take a shower after a long day's work. Now picture that everyday. Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world lack access to water and facilities where they can cleanse themselves. Even where there is water, many, especially women, avoid going to communal showers in fear of attack or harassment going there and coming back.

To help combat this fear, Showergy delivers all that is needed for the shower experience right to the user's doorstep - literally. Our cost-effective and easily installable shower system units will be implemented on almost every single plot, so that community members do not have to walk more than a stone's throw away. By providing the means to basic hygiene, Showergy helps reduce the probability for disease and ensures a safe, reliable place for women, children, and senior citizens to wash themselves.

As this is a sponsored project in an ongoing competition, the technical details of the product cannot yet be released.

PDD Video 1 - Showergy Pump Prototyping Work Session - 12 February 2011

PDD Video 2 - Showergy Pump Prototyping Work Session - 19 February 2011

PDD Video 3 - Showergy Frame Prototype Construction - 6 March 2011

PDD Video 4 - Team Dynamics - 6 March 2011

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