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SoPHE Award Winners 2015

‘Miracle Tree’ proposal wins Young Engineers Award

A proposed solution to the problem of unsafe drinking water in Liberia involving the ‘miracle’ Moringa plant has won the Society of Public Health Engineers’ Young Engineers Award 2015.

The proposal, by Alexa Bruce, Anna Cesenni and Anokhee Shah of Arup, was created in answer to the challenge set by the judges to assess how the local Moringa or cactus plants could be used for household water treatment in poor communities of Liberia or Sierra Leone.

Their presentation focussed on the great potential of the Moringa plant to act as a natural aid in existing water filtration methods such as the biosand filter, as well to impact the local economy in other ways.

Sometimes referred to as the ‘Miracle Tree’ because of its diverse range of uses, the Moringa plant’s seeds are often used as a natural coagulant that traps dirt and bacteria in untreated water, especially in countries where importing chemical purifiers is difficult and expensive. The plant is also useful as a source of food for humans and animals, a source of cosmetic oils for export and fertiliser for domestic use.

The winning idea involved the commercial growth of Moringa plants in conjunction with the establishment of water treatment facilities, powered by bicycle and requiring little to no electricity to run. Each of these facilities could supply the water needs of 150 people per day, as well as jobs for local people involved in the growing of the plants and running the facilities.

As a by-product, the plants also produce marketable goods including fertiliser, seed cake for livestock and oils used in cosmetics that can be sold. This would then allow the treatment facilities to be run at a profit, requiring around £1400 a year to break even. A second benefit of the plan relates to its ability to empower women, who would gain from this system as they are responsible for water collection in over three quarters of West African households.

Steve Vaughan, Chair of the Society of Public Health Engineers, said “This year’s SoPHE Young Engineers Award has seen another successful partnership between SoPHE and Water Aid resulting in a comprehensive proposal of immense value in West Africa where drinking water resources are continually stressed.

“It is really enlightening to see young engineers getting involved and coming up with some great and innovative ideas, this is not only excellent for our society and industry but also proves how important good public health engineering really is.”

In the coming months, the winning team will carry out an in-country field trip with Water Aid to the affected area studied in the proposal.