A Portland State University professor, visiting Rwanda, July 2012, is spearheading a $50 m health campaign under Sustainable Water, Energy, and Environmental Technologies Laboratory, (SWEET Lab) to serve clean water and supply energy to a quarter of Rwanda’s rural population.
Evan A. Thomas, Ph.D., P.E., is an Assistant Professor and Director of the SWEET Lab, and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University.
Thomas’s research and teaching interests include developing sustainable life support systems for spacecraft and the developing world. He is also a social enterprise executive as the founding Executive Vice President of Manna Energy Limited.
Prior to joining PSU, he worked as a civil servant at the NASA-Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for six years.
At NASA, he was a principal investigator and project manager in the Life Support and Habitability Systems Branch working on concepts for sustainable Moon and Mars spacecraft.
Thomas holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder and is a registered P.E. in Environmental Engineering in the State of Texas.
Thomas is also the executive vice president for Manna Energy, under contract with UK- based water- quality company “Del Agua” to design and deploy Rwanda program under his leadership.
Manna Energy is a social enterprise, based in Rwanda,” I’ve been working in Rwanda for 8 years, and we partner with other organizations around the world,” he says.
For this Rwanda project, Del Aqua, a water quality company, funded Manna Energy to deploy the system.
The Rwandan Ministry of Health and the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority are also partnering. Also we earn carbon credits for the installations, which reduce wood burning.
Josh Kefauver, chief operating officer of Manna Energy — the British company implementing the clean water program — calls their work in Rwanda a health campaign to train households on the use of these healthier, cleaner habits.
He says, it’s a really elegant system that we think will seriously benefit the community. Kefauver has been in Rwanda since April, and plans on staying there semi-permanently for the duration of the 10-year program. He is in charge of making individual house calls to find out who will need the filters and cooking stoves.
He heads up the Portland State’s SWEET Lab, not only designing lifesaving solutions like water filters and clean-burning stoves, but also revolutionary remote sensors that monitor the success of these tools and help establish a new level of accountability for international relief efforts.
With the aim to tackle two of Rwanda’s biggest health issue including pneumonia and diarrhea, Thomas has ventured the Rwanda project that will distribute water filters and efficient cooking stoves to about 600,000 households by next spring during 2012 in an effort to reduce the need to boil drinking water and the demand for wood fuel.
Thomas’s project are also operating in other countries including, Kenya, Indonesia and Haiti.
About 600 of the filters and cooking stoves will be equipped with a remote smart sensor — known as Sweet- Sense — developed by Evans and his PSU students.
According to him, “the sensors will help us answer two questions: Does the technology work, and do people use it?” Thomas says.
Many international development projects rely on in-person spot checks, making it difficult to collect reliable data and convince donors that improvements will be long-lasting.
Thomas says the overall motivation is to improve the sustainability of these programs, through better data collection and more sustained financial mechanisms. The biggest challenge in global development, he says, is often the finite funding for a project without long-term monitoring.
Data from the sensors in Rwanda is sent back in real time to the lab at PSU for students to analyze.
By next spring, 2,000 Rwandese community health workers will distribute water filters and clean-burning cooking stoves to serve nearly 3 million people.
The project will be made possible through the use of carbon credits, each of which equals one ton of carbon dioxide either not emitted or removed from the atmosphere.
Those credits be bought by either countries or Companies to show compliance with the climate-change obligations of the Kyoto Protocols.
“The carbon price can vary between roughly $5 a credit to as much as $30, depending on the market and the particular project,” says Thomas.
Thomas has received $550,000 to commercialize the remote sensors in partnership with Oregon BEST, the Lemelson Foundation, Stevens Water and Mercy Corps, all based in Portland.
Thomas hopes that generating several million credits a year and repaying the project’s initial cost over three years, though organizers are still shopping around for potential credit buyers.”
The idea is that the cooking stoves lower carbon emissions by reducing the need to chop down so many trees, and the water filters reduce the energy needed to boil water.
Indoor air pollution from cooking stove smoke has been classified by the World Health Organization as one of the biggest threats to the public health of vulnerable populations in developing countries, leading to nearly 2 million deaths annually.
Every year, 1.5 million people die from diarrhea and other enteric illnesses associated with lack of access to safe drinking water and poor sanitation. Ninety percent of those people are children under the age of 5, most of them in developing countries.
“Dirty water causes the vast majority of disease in Rwanda, where life expectancy is less than 50 years.”