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Curriculum for clean water

Dr. Mandy Meriano (standing, centre) at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. Four institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa aim to train 600 people in water resources management by 2019.

A near-death childhood experience led Dr. Mandy Meriano to pursue her passion of water resource management.

“As a young child growing up in Iran, I drank contaminated water,” says Meriano, UTSC lecturer and environmental sciences alumna. “The experience is still with me to this day.”

More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes.

The problem is particularly acute in Africa.  Across the continent, 345 million people lack access to clean water. For every million people living in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, there are 30 skilled water resources experts; for every million Canadians, there are at least 4,000 experts.

The need for experts trained to develop solutions in those countries least served, together with Dr. Meriano’s own harrowing experience, strengthened her resolve to improve access to safe drinking water. In partnership with UTSC and Calgary-based NGO, UniWater Education Limited, and with support from a Stars in Global Health grant from Grand Challenges Canada, a Master’s degree curriculum in Hydrogeology and Water Resources Management is being created for universities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Meriano’s view, the problem of access to clean water is one that is best solved by those who best understand the environment and its challenges—the people who live there.

“We hope to help through knowledge transfer and mentorship,” says Meriano.

The Grand Challenges Canada grant provided seed money for the development of the curriculum, which will be passed on to the participating universities at no cost.

The 12-month graduate program will be offered this September at the University of Nairobi, South Eastern Kenya University, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania and the University of Calabar in Nigeria. These institutions will train students in hydrogeology and hydrochemistry, as well as offer courses in ethics and social values. After graduating, the newly trained experts will be qualified to work in industry, government, consulting, community-based organizations, NGOs and research.

“By 2019, we hope that 600 people will be trained.” Though her five-year goal is ambitious, she expects that these universities and their new graduates will mentor other universities  and share their learnings within the academic community  — ultimately making a difference on the ground within their own communities.

“This is an investment for generations,” says Meriano. “This program has potential to make a major impact on local communities, improving their water resources, and ultimately, people’s health and their communities’ economic growth.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough