Mobile learning and environment

Last week we, EOI students, were given a brand-new Samsung Galaxy tablet as part of the mobile learning policy of the School. To be honest, it took me a few days to take it out of its box, as I’m not really fond of the idea of being permanently connected to the world. I couldn’t see its use having a laptop to work with, but everything changed yesterday and I can say… I’m now a believer!

What was it? Easy, I had to prepare an exam, I had all my notes on PDF format and I had to move around the city in order to solve couple of personal matters, including voting in the elections. Then I realised not only how useful it was going to be the time I had to expend in the bus, reading my notes from my new tablet, but also how environmentally friendly the tablet can be.

Without it, most probably, I would have printed the whole bunch of slides, wasting paper, ink, energy and myprecious time. With the tablet I was able to enjoy full colour documents and keep on reading on the move. Amazing!

The only thing I can expect now is for Android technology to incorporate the WWF format, the ecological PDF that can be read but not printed and that’s already available for Mac OS X.


Arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh

This is my very first post in a blog, so it only made sense to me to write about the main reason why I’m studying a Master in Water Engineering and Management.

As an Architect who specialized in Cooperation for Development I’ve had the chance to live and work in several countries, including Bangladesh. Water and Sanitation are always big issues when talking about Developing Countries, but it gets another dimension in that tiny overpopulated Southeast Asian country.

The population in such a poor land is growing so fast that improvements on water supply have failed to keep pace as in many other countries of Asia and Africa. Worldwide, two billion people still have no access to clean water, and water contaminated by sewage is estimated to kill 3.4 million, including two million children,every year.

Water experts have sounded an alarm that within the next 25 years, half of the world’s population could have trouble in finding enough fresh water for drinking and irrigation. Currently, as reports reveal, at least 80 countries, representing 40 percent of the world’s population, are subject to severe water shortages. Conditions may get worse as population grows and global warming disrupts rainfall patterns.

Problems regarding water go further in Bangladesh: The contamination of groundwater by arsenic is the largest poisoning of a population in history, with millions of people exposed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Historically, surface water sources in Bangladesh have been contaminated with microorganisms, causing a significant burden of disease and mortality. Consequently, during the 1970s the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) worked with the Department of Public Health Engineering to install tube-wells to provide what was presumably a safe source of drinking water for the population. A number of international agencies andprivate citizens joined the initiative, installing millions of inexpensive tube-wells to tap the cleaner water beneath the surface. At the time the wells were installed, arsenic was not recognized as a problem in water supplies, and therefore standard water testing procedures did not include tests for arsenic.

Arsenic contamination of water in tube-wells was confirmed in 1993. Further testing was done in the following years, including investigations by several institutes and laboratories. Altogether, 400 measurements were presented in WHO country situation report. In about half of the measurements concentrations were far above 50 µg/l, which is clearly in excess of the maximum level recommended by WHO of 10 µg/l.

Studies in other countries where the population has had long-term exposure to arsenic in groundwater indicate that 1 in 10 people who drink water containing 50 µg/l of arsenic may ultimately die from cancers caused by arsenic, including lung, bladder and skin cancers.

Short-term strategies were then launched to avoid arsenic contaminated water to be drunk, including red labelling for the affected wells. The Department of Public Health Engineering has started an arsenic mitigation plan, but obviously it is overtaken by the progress of contamination. According to a 2010 Lancet study up to 77 millions of people in Bangladesh have been exposed to toxic levels of arsenic from drinking water.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported the installation of arsenic removal plants in Bangladesh, but they were considered a colossal waste of funds due to breakdowns, inconvenient placements and lack of quality control. A simpler and less expensive form of arsenic removal is known as the sono arsenic filter, using three pitchers containing cast iron turnings and sand in the first pitcher and wood activated carbon and sand in the second. Although novel, this filter has not been certified by any sanitary standards and does not avoid toxic waste disposal similar to any other iron removal process.

Large-scale water treatments may include flocculation procedures, which remove arsenic by co-precipitation and adsorption using iron coagulants, activated alumina columns connected to shallow tube wells, as the chemical compound is an adsorbent that effectively removes arsenic, and both reverse osmosis and electro-dialysis.

Bangladesh’s problems regarding water and sanitation are huge, but so are in many others underdeveloped and even developed countries. Pursuing this master I hope I had the chance of collaborate with effective solutions within dynamic organizations, adding my technical knowledge and personal experience to the goal of improve water conditions worldwide.

Sources: World Health Organization, The Daily Star Bangladesh, and BBC.


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