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Drexel Students Volunteering to Install Water System in Drought-stricken El Salvadoran Village

November 16, 2007

Drexel University students will journey to El Salvador over winter break with the goal of providing a village of 160 residents a clean, dependable water supply and distribution system.

Miramar, located in western El Salvador near the border of Guatemala, endures six months of rain followed by six months of drought, resulting in a severe water shortage for its residents, refugees of a 1980s civil war, said Kim DiGiovanni, a senior majoring in environmental engineering and manager of the student project. In addition to the shortage, the water supply in wells and streams contains high levels of E. coli and other coliforms, causing illness.

Residents take several hour-long trips each day to get drinking water from a small, polluted stream. Those trips prevent children from attending school and limit women’s ability to work to support their families, DiGiovanni said.

The Miramar project is the first for Drexel’s year-old chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit organization that aids developing communities worldwide to improve their quality of life. The project is being funded by corporate sponsors and rotary clubs. Students estimate they’ll need $25,000 to complete the project. Donations are accepted at

Thirty students — most are undergraduates in Drexel’s College of Engineering — have helped plan the project, overseen by Dr. Richard A. Cairncross, associate professor of chemical engineering, and Joe Mastronardo of Pennoni Associates, an engineering firm with offices in Pennsylvania and seven other states.

Several students are enrolled in Cairncross’ independent-study course The El Salvador Project. They will receive three credits for their contribution to the Miramar project.

Five students flew to Miramar in September to assess the village’s needs for the first of the three-trip project, which involves the help of Peace Corps volunteers. With Cairncross and Mastonardo, five more students will travel to Miramar from Dec. 16 to 22 to oversee the drilling of the village’s well so that it extends deep enough to penetrate the aquifer, DiGiovanni said.

Students will also dig a foundation for a storage tank that will funnel water to four distribution points, located strategically throughout the village. The gravity-driven storage tank will provide residents up to 22,500 liters of water a day.

In March, another group of students will go to Miramar to install an electric pump in the well. They will also install the storage tank and all the pipes for its distribution system, DiGiovanni said.


News media contact: Brian Rossiter, Drexel News Bureau 215-895-2705, 267-228-5599 (cell) or

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