A young boy drinks from a water fountain in India. (Photo courtesy IC-IMPACTS)
(Edmonton) More than 760 million people around the world—including five million in Canada—don’t have reliable access to safe drinking water, but a new initiative will bring researchers from India, the University of Alberta and other Canadian universities together to find solutions.
The $3-million joint Water for Health research initiative was announced by the Government of India and IC-IMPACTS, a Canada-India Research Centre of Excellence of which the U of A is a member. The joint initiative between IC-IMPACTS and the Department of Biotechnology for the Government of India will fund projects that bring together researchers from both countries to work on common water quality problems and their implications for public health issues.
The U of A’s role in existing IC-IMPACTS projects and any new project proposals under the Water for Health initiative focuses on integrated water management and will benefit water safety in Canada and India, said engineering professor Sushanta Mitra, who leads the U of A research pillar for IC-IMPACTS.
“We have a common goal, a common passion to make a big difference in Canada and India,” said Mitra, who is based in the U of A Faculty of Engineering. “The Water for Health initiative will support the best research from both countries.”
Naga Siva Gunda (centre), a post-doctoral fellow in Sushanta Mitra's research team, works with partners from Tata Consultancy Services and Primary Health Centre to deploy a mobile water kit for detecting E. coli in remote locations in India.
Focused on management practices for safe drinking water, the U of A leads research on quality monitoring for health hazards like pathogens and heavy metals, and on finding affordable treatment solutions.
IC-IMPACTS also includes research led by the University of British Columbia in the area of safe and sustainable infrastructure and by the University of Toronto in public health.
U of A involvement in IC-IMPACTS research spans several faculties along with engineering, including the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences. Together, they are exploring the complexities of water management and the challenges faced by communities with limited resources, in Canada and India alike.
“There are issues like limited availability of grid power,” Mitra noted. “You can have the best technology available in water monitoring and treatment, but if there is no power, it can’t work.” One team is looking at the potential of solar power, while other U of A researchers are working on better ways to detect bacteria and pathogens in water. In Canada, current U of A-led research includes studying barriers to water safety in First Nations communities.
Social scientists will also play a role as the research grows, Mitra said. “We want to measure the social impact of water management issues. If there is no uptake in local communities, then again, all that technology will fail.”
Mitra is excited about Water for Health project proposals that he expects will come from the U of A and other universities across Canada. “The projects will focus on transformational research, really touching the lives of people at the community level.”