DIL State of the Lab Winter 2014-2015 - Page 10

WINTER 2014 see the world through the framework of the solutions we have to offer; and two, it gives us something to do.” Ali adds to this list a third reason: human fallibility, especially in crisis situations. A child collects water at a tapstand in the Gendrassa refugee camp, South Sudan. (Photo courtesy of Syed Imran Ali) In September 2012, Ali enlisted for a second humanitarian crisis. He joined an eightmonth mission with Doctors Without Borders in South Sudan, where the newly independent country was being overwhelmed with refugees escaping years of violent clashes. Ali’s job was to implement emergency water treatment systems in refugee and transit camps, manage water and sanitation infrastructure and staff in MSF healthcare facilities, and lead camp sanitation building projects. He was witness to a severe health crisis at a camp called Jamam on the Upper Nile state of South Sudan, to which 30,000 people had fled. Jamam, which means “swamp” in Maban, was picked in haste by authorities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and in part because it was 50 km from the Sudanese border, a UNHCR requirement. The place lived up to its name. When the rainy season hit in May, the camp flooded and diarrheal illnesses and hepatitis E overwhelmed the refugee population. Ali and his colleagues worked tirelessly. In a Jan. 29, 2013 MSF blog, he wrote: “I’ve stopped thinking. The last time I stopped to think something out, to parse it, to give it a name, was months ago …. [Yet] I had a home that was not this place, this strange, inhospitable, impossible place that is now home for 15,000, 65,000, 115,000 people, who had to run here, and from where it seems like PAGE 10 they won’t leave for a long time still, for the abode of war still reigns in their hills.” Among the reasons that Ali’s brain was functioning only for emergency purposes was because by January he was also working in a nearby refugee camp called Batil, which had become home to 35,000 people and where a third of the camp had no sanitation services. The result was another large hepatitis E outbreak from so many people defecating outside. “There’s a structural problem in the humanitarian system,” said Ali in response to why the story of aid seems often to be one of failure. “There’s no feedback mechanism. No one in the field has the capacity, because they’re always reacting.” But Ali has found a way to provide feedback. During his time at the Jamam refugee camp, he realized that chlorination levels for camp water systems were based on standards for municipal water systems with sophisticated infrastructure—even though a refugee camp is radically different from a city. To deal with the daily reality of sick and dying people, Ali began to study how free residual chlorine in water behaved in the refugee camp setting. He soon discovered that it was inadequate— that within four to six hours of collection, the chlorine was mostly gone. He set out to correct this oversight. Ali’s current work at the Blum Center may very well rewrite the UN guidelines for refugee camp water systems, protecting upwards of 50 million people. “This project will help to build the evidential base for safe water practices in humanitarian settings, something which is almost totally lacking at present,” said one of Ali’s mentors, Ed McBean, a professor of engineering at University of Guelph, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Water Supply Security. “The work will improve best practices for safe water supply in emergencies the world over.” Last summer, in collaboration with UNHCR, Ali collected chlorination level data at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, and in 2015 he will do the same at two more sites, in Rwanda and Jordan, and take data during the winter to observe any s X\