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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

EWB founder lectures

By Kevin Lin     12/2/10 6:00pm

Engineers without Borders founder Bernard Amadei, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, came to Rice as the first guest in the President's Lecture Series to talk about engineering for the poorest 90 percent of the world."The kind of engineering I'm going to talk about focuses on the needs of 5 billion people," Amadei said. "Five billion people whose job is to stay alive."

Amadei refers to these five billion people as the other 90 percent. While they make up the majority of the world's population, most engineering today focuses solely on the needs of the richest 10 percent.

"The kind of engineering I'm going to talk about tonight isn't typical engineering," Amadei said. "It's engineering with a human face or engineering with a human heart or compassionate engineering or engineering that cares."

Amadei founded EWB, which focuses on this kind of engineering, after visiting the village of San Pablo in Belize in 2000. In the village, there was a little girl who couldn't go to school because she had to carry water to the village from a river 120 feet away. One of the villagers asked Amadei to do something about it. Inspired, Amadei went back to the University of Colorado to recruit a team of graduate students to construct a ramp pump to deliver water to the village. Amadei said helping this little girl go to school and seeing the vigor with which his students tackled this project inspired him to start EWB at CU-Boulder.

EWB now has 12,000 members and 225 chapters that have active projects in 47 countries. The average team pairs students with professionals for five-year projects.

"About 1.4 billion people don't have clean water; 2.4 billion don't have sanitation; 24,000 children die every day for reasons that are completely preventable," Amadei said.

Amadei said 5,000 people die every day from indoor air pollution, between 5,000 to 10,000 die from malaria and 10,000 die from HIV/AIDS.

"We, as part of the universe, are perfectly comfortable spending $32,000 per second on military expenditures," Amadei said. "At the same time, we're perfectly comfortable in accepting that 30,000 people die every day for reasons that are completely preventable. [...] It does not speak highly of us as a civilized human race."

Amadei said children are often the ones who suffer in poor communities, forced to beg, pick up trash and be subjected to sexual abuse. Their deaths come in many forms, from simple diarrhea to landmines from a long-past war. According to Amadei, often it is something as basic as not having clean water.

"I don't know how many of you have seen children die in front of you," Amadei said. "I've seen children die in front of me for reasons that are completely preventable."

The Third World is not the only part of the world experiencing these problems. Amadei said 220,000 poor people stayed behind during Hurricane Katrina because they had no means to evacuate the city. Amadei noted that there is also rampant alcoholism and unemployment in many Native American reservations today.

To combat these problems both at home and abroad, Amadei called for a new sort of engineering which would focus on issues like disaster relief and durability.

"You've all heard the concept: Teach a person how to fish instead of giving them a fish," Amadei said. "That's such a boring statement. . My work is to create fishing industries - [I'm] not interested in teaching people how to fish. It's boring."

Examples of this include a solar power system installed in the middle of the Sahara Desert to power a whole community, a telecommunications network in the middle of the African jungle to help isolated villages communicate with faraway doctors and a compressed air block factory in a Crow reservation that offers employment for many of the natives.

"The discussion has changed; the game board has changed; the plays have to change," Amadei said. "It's time to wake up."

Amadei said people need to forget about the 1 billion rich people and focus on the other 5 billion people in the world. He said we have a collective interest in helping these developing countries. By putting money in vocational jobs, young people will not be on the street or join al-Qaeda, and will go to create a skilled labor force, Amadei said.

The Rice EWB Chapter currently has four active projects: two in Nicaragua, one in Honduras and another one in El Salvador. EWB President Matthew Stearns said he was impressed by Amadei's talk.

"Amadei is a brilliant man," Stearns, a Brown College senior, said. "Everything he said, we agree with it fully as a student chapter."

Amadei closed his speech with the call for a new breed of engineers.

"It's time for us to create global engineers," Amadei said. "Engineers who care; engineers who focus not only on matters of the head but matters of the heart.

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