How Engineering Helps Rural Communities

Greg Wheeler
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Rural communities are renowned for their quiet living and close-knit nature. While some may find these qualities idyllic, these rural communities face some challenges that urban communities generally don't encounter. Through a combination of innovation, technology, and engineering, rural areas can find viable solutions to these problems.

One of the biggest problems facing rural communities is access to clean, safe water. In some areas of the world, the main water source for one or more cities or villages is often contaminated, which can lead to disease. Some of these diseases, if left untreated, can be fatal. Thankfully, several engineering solutions can be applied to these areas to help keep water clean and reduce illness. A good example is the Pantanal Partnership, which sends engineering students to Brazil to assess how rural residents can get access to clean water. They build biosand filters that take out bad bacteria, leaving clean drinking water behind. The students are also working on special waste filters that will help ensure human waste doesn't contaminate the drinking water supply.

Another major concern for rural communities is a lack of bridges and walkways. In some cases, the infrastructure is there but is crumbling and unsafe to use, which limits access to schools, stores, food, and basic health care. Engineers can take current bridges that are unsafe and make them useable again using a variety of engineering solutions. A group called Bridges to Prosperity has been building bridges across the world since 2006, using engineering students from various colleges. These students travel to places such as Peru and Nicaragua and use a complex series of surveys and feasibility studies to determine how and where the bridges should be built.

One of the hallmarks of projects like Bridges to Prosperity and the Pantanal Partnership is that they aim to leave behind functional and sustainable programs in different rural communities. For example, the biosand filters used by Pantanal Partnership to filter drinking water need to be able to continue to filter water long after the team of engineers has left. If the locals don't know how to upkeep the new systems put in place, the work of the engineers would be for nothing. That is why education is a crucial component of all of these programs.

In rural areas across the globe, there is often difficulty in accessing even the most basic of needs. Things urban communities take for granted, such as clean drinking water, is hard or impossible to come by in some rural communities. That is why engineers are a necessity. They can solve these problems as part of their work—sometimes with simple solutions that can be easily sustained for years to come.


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