This US-Peru award will support six undergraduate and thirteen graduate students from the University of Colorado at Boulder, under the direction of Dr. Karl Linden, to carry out field-based research in Peru for three years. Two other US faculty mentors and several Peruvian scientists and students will be involved in the project. The program is co-organized by Zulema Sevillano Bartra from the National University of the Peruvian Amazon, Juán José Milón Guzmán from Universidad Católica San Pablo, and Marcos Oversluijs Vasquez from Water Program Service (Civil Association for Conservation of the Peruvian Amazon Environment). The project will give students the opportunity to identify key factors that lead to the creation of sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure in developing communities by comparing 'market-based' to 'charity-based' approaches. The goal of the proposal is to evaluate such strategies through hypothesis-driven research. The project is interdisciplinary in nature and it merges the fields of engineering, social sciences, anthropology and economics. Research will be conducted in two distinct geographical regions within Peru (wet vs dry) with different socio-economic factors.

This IRES will bring together a diverse community of researchers and graduate students from the United States and Peru. Research results will impact engineering design as well as provide valuable data to the fields of sociology, anthropology, public health, geography, and business. Students will have the opportunity for cultural and educational exchange through scientific inquiry. In addition, the project will involve high school students in the largely Spanish-speaking and minority-based pre-engineering program at Centaurus High School (CHS) in Lafayette, Colorado. Students will be engaged through a variety of communication platforms including interactive networking, teleconferences, social media and in-class presentations. This award is supported by the Office of International Science and Engineering and the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems of the Directorate of Engineering.

Project Report

This four year longitudinal study evaluated the sustainability of water and sanitation interventions in three communities in Arequipa and Iquitos, Peru. The study explored sustainability in the built environment by evaluating the effectiveness of strategies to provide sustainable water and sanitation coverage in low-income communities. Existing infrastructure and intervention strategies were evaluated based on design, performance, community interests, priorities, organization, skills and ability to finance and undertake maintenance and repair. Each research site provided an opportunity for University of Colorado Boulder (UCB) student learning and contributed case data for the overarching research question. US and Peruvian engineering, business, sociology and political science students formed interdisciplinary teams that partnered with Peruvian NGOs and government agencies to conduct the research. IRES students interviewed water treatment plant operators, conducted household surveys, observed usage of water and sanitation systems, tested water quality and conducted microbial analyses of compost. In total, 21 UCB graduate and undergraduate students conducted research for the IRES project in Peru working with 38 Peruvian undergraduate students. Products generated through the research include conference papers and presentations, journal articles, working papers, graduate course reports and reports to partner organizations. The following factors were identified to be correlated with sustainability of water and sanitation infrastructure in the three research sites: Financial contribution of users- Charity approaches where users had no financial contribution showed limited sustainability, and sustainability was increased when users had financial contribution to the capital or O&M costs. User choice- Sustainability was increased when users had choice in selecting the technology. Clusters of users- It is more sustainable to form clusters of users rather than focusing on single early adopters. Technology performance – Technologies that consistently perform well are more sustainable than technologies with inconsistent or poor performance. Ease of use of technology – Technologies that had simple interfaces and low to no O&M requirements for users/operators were more sustainable. Ease of access of technology – Remotely located water and sanitation technologies were less sustainable than household based systems. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation- Sustainability is increased when implemented by organizations with permanent and ongoing presence in the community to address issues in real time. Failure to address such issues often leads to abandonment of technologies. Proper training of users and operators- Initial and ongoing training for both users and operators is imperative, particularly within the local environment to ensure that technologies are used correctly. Broader outcomes Impact on engineering & other disciplines: The interdisciplinary research illustrated the interrelation of social and technical considerations in sustainability; a rare approach as most research is either based within social sciences or engineering separately. This research highlights the importance of interdisciplinary research and provides results that can spur further interdisciplinary work. Impact on infrastructure and institutional resources: This project made an important contribution to the collaborating organization’s water and sanitation programs in Peru. IRES students recommended strategies to improve performance of drinking water technologies based on their research. Implementation of these recommendations improved water quality of 12 community water treatment plants (WTP). In the first year, only 8% of WTPs met acceptable water quality parameters, in the second year 41% of WTPs met the standards, while in the third year, 92% of WTPs met the quality standards. Since WTP usage remained constant, this will result in significant improvement in public health in the community. All collaborating organizations in Peru have established monitoring and evaluation systems for their water and sanitation programs as a result of the IRES research. More importantly, collaborating organizations witnessed the importance and value of regular monitoring and evaluation to feed into programming decisions. Impact on professional development and career networks: Participation in the IRES research project led to important outcomes for students in terms of their experiences, and professional and academic achievements. UCB students gained the opportunity to apply classroom training and theoretical training in science and engineering in a challenging and complex environment. The project was an invaluable opportunity to strengthen Spanish language skills, allowing many students to become comfortable with professional and technical communication in a foreign language. All participants gained important insights on cross-cultural collaboration within the team setting and in the interaction with developing communities. Finally, students were able to network with international researchers and organizations thus expanding their potential career connections. IRES student participants were able to leverage these connections to find jobs and enter advanced degree programs. Incorporation of underrepresented groups- The project attracted a high number of female participants, particularly from the environmental engineering field; 12/21 of the IRES student participants were female. Furthermore, native Spanish speaking students were given priority for recruitment and selection. IRES students also conducted high school outreach activities at a local school with a large Hispanic population, that generated significant interest from both Hispanic and female high school students.

Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2011-04-15
Budget End
2014-03-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2010
Total Cost
$149,384
Indirect Cost
Name
University of Colorado at Boulder
Department
Type
DUNS #
City
Boulder
State
CO
Country
United States
Zip Code
80309