This winter break, two UW-Eau Claire students had the opportunity to travel along with a professor on a research trip to India. Junior Heather Spray and senior Greg Nelson accompanied Dr. David Soll, an environmental historian and in the Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies, on a roughly three week trip overseas to India. The trio divided their time between two cities, spending two weeks in Bangalore and five days in Dehli. While abroad, they spent their time researching, networking and exploring India.
The purpose of the trip was to conduct research on water supply systems in developing countries; to study how they work and how they cope with population growth and urban development. The team's research methods consisted of researching documents as well as conducting field studies. They spent time at the National Library, National Archives and the Center for Education Documentation studying government reports, newspaper articles, journals, research articles and historical records. They also went to a landfill in Bangalore known as the "Trash Trail" which allows visitors to tour and witness the life cycle of garbage. Both students described it as an eye-opening day.
"It was enlightening to see how garbage thrown on the street is actually managed. At the metal and plastic refinery they used outdated, homemade equipment and workers didn't wear safety equipment," said Nelson, a Biology and Environmental Public Health student.
From their research, the team discovered that the economy has a large impact on the efficiency of waste management and water systems in India. Without an official waste management system in place, waste is dumped anywhere which impacts the water quality and systems.
As part of their field studies, the team visited some of the lakes that supply much of the water in India. Some of the lakes had eroded over time and they wanted to explore what was causing the damage and they realized that while much of it was due to the usage of the lakes, there were many factors to consider.
Considering India's social stratification system, they found that lakes located in areas with better economy and populated by people of a higher class status were in better condition than lakes in areas home to people of a lower class status. In addition to economics, the students were surprised to discover how much of an effect politics can have on environmental health issues.
"In some of the documentation and news articles we studied we read about problems that existed 10 years ago that were still problems today. The politics in India make it hard to implement positive change," said Nelson.
Through their research, the group gained an understanding of how value systems, economics and politics have an impact on the water supply and solid waste management systems in India. Inefficiency and lack of accountability as to who is responsible for managing water and waste all contribute to the dysfunction of the system.
Both Spray and Nelson agreed that the trip put things into perspective and gave them a new appreciation for living in the United States.
For Spray, a student double majoring in History and Spanish, the trip was about much more than researching water supply systems, saying that one of her favorite aspects of the trip was exploring a country with such a rich history. Nelson enjoyed exploring India's natural landscape and having the opportunity to see unique plants and animals. Both students were able to use the knowledge and skills they gained from their studies in History, Environmental Public Health and Biology within the Watershed Institute and apply them to the research project.
"It's great that UW-Eau Claire offers these travel learning opportunities, It is so important to learn about the global community and how we can and should work together to solve problems. It was an amazing experience," said Spray.
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