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UC Berkeley Press Release

Student teams head to Southeast Asia for tsunami rebuilding projects

– Three University of California, Berkeley, student groups are traveling to Southeast Asia in coming weeks to lend their energies and expertise to tsunami relief efforts in Thailand and Sri Lanka.

Eco-tourism in Thailand

A student team led by David Dowall, director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Urban and Regional Development (IURD) and professor of city planning in the College of Environmental Design, will join counterparts from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, to help shape long-term planning for eco-tourism and beach- and water-related activities in the Krabi province.

The area's main tourist destination, the Phi Phi islands, was severely damaged by the tsunami, while other locales such as some hot springs, an orchid farm, a mangrove forest and King Rama VI's summer palace, sustained less damage, said Dowall.

Student researchers will spend a month - starting May 22 - touring sites and meeting with community leaders and policymakers. Two Thai graduate researchers helped pave the way by collecting maps, reports and statistical data about the coastal region in southern Thailand.

Their goal is to assess future demand and possible scenarios for tourism in the area, document community concerns, recommend ways to protect the environment while simultaneously promoting economic development, and offer a plan for implementing their suggestions.

The final product also could be used as a model for neighboring Thai provinces, including Phang Nga and the tourist center of Phuket, Dowall said.

In addition, said UC Berkeley graduate student Victor Pineda, because the tsunami increased the number of people living with disabilities, students will address issues of access in public transportation, wheelchair-friendly tourism and barrier-free reconstruction.

"Otherwise, we risk perpetuating marginalization and exclusion of this vital group," said Pineda, who will help produce a documentary film about the project.

The chancellor's office is providing $40,000 for this project, and the IURD is giving in-kind support for staff salaries. Dowall is donating his time.

Ensuring Sri Lanka has clean water

In an effort to develop appropriate and sustainable clean water technologies in a region still recovering from the effects of the tsunami, a team of six graduate students will head to Sri Lanka for four weeks in August.

Tsunami victims getting water
People displaced by the tsunami currently rely on water brought by trucks and stored in community-shared water containers. UC Berkeley students will be working with Sarvodaya, a Sri Lankan relief and development organization, to address the long-term need for local, low-cost water purification. (Photo courtesy of Sarvodaya)

The primary purpose of the trip will be to train local organizations and entrepreneurs to construct, install and use UV Tubes, an affordable water treatment system developed by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley, as well as other appropriate water purification systems.

"Rebuilding Sri Lanka is a complex and monumental task, one that includes addressing the drinking water situation," said Kamal Kapadia, a graduate student in energy and resources who has been in Sri Lanka since January. "The government has been providing residents with chlorinated water in trucks, and that's fine for the short term. But the UV Tube and rainwater harvesting are two examples of simple technologies that have the potential to provide a long-term solution to the region's water problems."

The students are from the Energy and Resources Group, the Haas School of Business and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley. They will collaborate with Sarvodaya, a non-governmental organization based in Sri Lanka that focuses on relief and development for local communities.

The trip to Sri Lanka is made possible with $20,000 in funding from the offices of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau and Vice Chancellor for Research Beth Burnside. A follow-up trip is planned for January 2006, with future trips possible pending funding.

"This project represents a unique opportunity for UC Berkeley to work with Sri Lankan organizations to help rebuild local communities," said Micah Lang, an energy and resources graduate student.

Fermin Reygadas, also a graduate student in energy and resources, noted that there were challenges to getting reliably clean water in the region even before the tsunami. "Sri Lanka primarily relies upon surface water, which can become contaminated more easily than ground water," he said. "The need for safe drinking water will always be there, even after the region recovers from the tsunami."

Daniel Kammen, a UC Berkeley professor in the Energy and Resources Group, is director of the lab where the UV Tube project originated. Kara Nelson, UC Berkeley assistant professor of civil engineering, is the technical advisor for the UV Tube project.

Not only did the researchers make the design of the UV Tube intentionally simple, they made it freely available, much like open source software. In essence, water passing through a stainless steel-lined PVC tube is exposed to powerful ultraviolet light that inactivates disease-causing pathogens.

They estimate that the initial cost of a UV Tube system would be less than $40. Extensive tests in the lab and field indicate that the system can disinfect one gallon of water per minute and operate on 15 watts of power from a solar panel or other electric installation.

The UV Tube has already been field tested in Haiti and Mexico. The UC Berkeley students will start off their summer in Mexico before heading to Sri Lanka. The group is also partnering with a solar electric company in India to investigate the possibility of bringing the water purification system to that country as well.

MBAs and micro-business

A team of four full-time MBA students from the International Business Development Program at the Haas School of Business is heading to Sri Lanka in late May. It will work with the Sewalanka relief organization, helping rural villagers connect with informational, financial and marketing networks to develop sustainable business plans.

"Since many of the immediate needs after the tsunami struck have been addressed over the last few months, we are focused on meeting long-term needs and facilitating the transition that communities must eventually make from relief aid dependency," said Gihani Fernando, one of the Haas School students and a native of Sri Lanka.

"As a Sri Lankan, I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to add value to displaced communities where people have so little to begin with," she said. "I feel that the long-term focus of the project is particularly appealing because many people in these communities face a daily struggle that encourages them to adopt a very myopic approach to survival."

The Haas School team, said Fernando, will search for ways around the middlemen who typically extract a large share of the profits in rural enterprises.

The students will spend a little over half their time in Colombo, which was not directly affected by the December 2004 tsunami.