Families in Malawi, a country in eastern Africa, walk miles for hours each day just to get clean drinking water. A University of New Hampshire (UNH) environmental engineering capstone class is planning to bring an affordable device to the village of Zamkuto in order for them to have access to clean water.  

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, consisting of 18.6 million people with over half of the population living below the poverty line. Getting access to clean water has been a struggle for the country. One in three people do not have clean water and over 1,400 children die every year of illnesses caused by dirty water. Having a toilet is considered a privilege. In the rural areas of the country where water is even more significant for agricultural reasons, 35 percent lack access to water and over 70 percent do not have proper sanitation.  

The capstone group working on bringing clean water to Malawi consists of four members – three seniors, Nicola Elardo, Lana Pillsbury and Meghan Otis, and Dr. Jim Malley, the faculty advisor on the project. They have been working on the project since the fall when the students proposed the project to the program, and they have hopes of finishing the project in the summer.  

The spring box filter is used to bring spring water that is on the surface of the earth and bring it back into the ground where the water can be filtered and is much safer and cleaner for people to drink. Once the water is brought back into the ground, the sanitized rocks clean the water eliminating any bacteria and contaminants. Once it is brought back up to land from the pipe the village can get the water. 

This past January, the group traveled to Zamkuto where they did a scoping study to see what type of land they were working with. This gave them a better idea on what materials they need to use and where the best place would be for the spring box. It was crucial to travel to the village during the dry season so they could see how far they needed to dig to get water.  

“You don’t want something that is going to break down next year,” Elardo said regarding the importance of the sustainability aspect of the project.  

The group funded their first trip to Malawi by themselves and are paying for the project with their own money along with some grants. The total project is expected to cost over $20,000.  

Elardo explained that spring box is not the only thing needed to be sustainable, but also environmentally friendly. The project mainly consists of three concrete blocks, a pipe and rocks that filter out the water.  

The group also wanted to keep the project simple and cost-efficient. Elardo explained that if the project is too complicated, the village would have been hesitant to implement the spring box and more than likely would have said no.  

Malley said that he was excited when the three students presented the project to him and wanted to work with them. Being a professor at the university for 32 years, this is Malley’s second year in a row that his capstone team is comprised entirely of women, and he said that they “are smart and competent” and that he feels inspired when he works alongside them.