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Students' assignment: Help Fijians get clean drinking water


Living among farm animals and fields planted with root crops and sugar cane, the rural residents of Vanua Levu and Taveuni, two islands in Fiji, get their water unfiltered and untreated from creeks, wells and springs, some of them located deep in the jungle. For islanders, access to clean, drinkable water is still a pipe dream — a fantasy that exists only on the label of a bottle of designer water.

To bring 8,000 residents closer to achieving this dream, a team of five UCLA graduate students and a recent graduate, led by Eric Hoek, professor of civil and environmental engineering, traveled by bus, truck, ferry, an aging boat and even a seaplane and hiked jungle paths in July’s 100-degree heat to reach 16 villages and settlements to assess the quality of their drinking water.

The team’s goal? To determine the condition of the villages’ potable water and wastewater systems in order to submit an official Rural Water and Sanitation Plan for each village so that the people can qualify to receive funding from the Fijian government to make improvements.

“Most people think that Fiji has access to potable water because of the Fiji water bottles that are on store shelves,” said Michelle Thompson, a doctoral candidate in environmental science and engineering. “However, this is not the case in rural areas where they lack basic water and sanitation infrastructure.”