Tammi Freehling | February 20, 2020
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced University of Notre Dame’s Professor Jason Rohr submitted one of the highest scoring proposals, designated as the Top 100, in its 100&Change competition for a single $100 million grant to help solve one of the world’s most critical social challenges.
Rohr’s proposal — Disease, Food, Energy, and Water Solutions (DFEWS): Defusing a Global Crisis — offers a sustainable, local solution to reduce schistosomiasis while at the same time addressing food, energy and water shortages afflicting marginalized populations throughout the developing world.
Schistosomiasis is a disease originating in tiny snails that feed on aquatic plants and release parasitic flatworms into the water. Villagers routinely come into contact with the parasites as they gather water, clean clothes and bathe. Today, over 200 million people are infected with this disease and 700 million more are at risk. These people are simultaneously experiencing shortages of food, energy and water — more than 225 million people are undernourished in Africa, 32 out of 48 African countries are in an energy crisis and the economies of sub-Saharan Africa lose 40 billion hours per year collecting water.
To solve these problems, Rohr’s team uses validated, satellite imagery based approaches to map where the snails live, highlighting schistosomiasis hotspots. Clearing the submerged aquatic plants effectively removes the habitat for snails that cause schistosomiasis. Not only does this process significantly increase open water access necessary for obtaining water for cooking and washing clothes, it has already resulted in a 103-fold reduction in snails, and has significantly decreased schistosomiasis reinfection rates among children in field trials recently conducted in Senegal. The aquatic plant biomass is turned into compost and livestock feed to enhance food supplies, and it is used as fuel for biodigesters to increase energy production — a process that is taught to villagers to keep the solution sustainable. Rohr’s team is actively working to defuse a global crisis by simultaneously and sustainably addressing disease, food, energy and water issues with a solution that can be scaled to other developing countries.
Read more here.