Most appeals for refugees focus on immediate necessities: clothes, food, shelter. But medium and long-term innovation is needed, and that’s where developments across STEM disciplines really come into their own.
Engineering is a clear starting point: sanitation, shelter and supply lines are all essential in any crisis. Dr Hayaatun Sillem, of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) agrees: “Many critical aspects of humanitarian relief efforts rely on excellent engineering, from design and layout of refugee shelters to maximize their capacity, to the creation of efficient communication and transport networks that allow information to be shared and resources moved quickly across a humanitarian supply chain.”
Up to 115 people die every hour in Africa from diseases linked to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation, particularly in the wake of conflicts and environmental disasters. Dr Askwar Hilonga recently won the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize, which is dedicated to African inventions with the potential to bring major social and economic benefits to the continent. Hilonga has invented a low cost, sand-based water filter. The filter combines nanotechnology with traditional sand-filtering methods to provide safe drinking water without expensive treatment facilities. It has the potential to save thousands of lives and provide a cheap, efficient and quick way for refugee camps and emergency shelters to provide safe drinking water from any source.