The University of North Carolina (UNC) was founded more than two centuries ago to enable and promote development; specifically, the development of the State of North Carolina. Since the introduction of the school's sanitary engineering program, by Thorndike Saville and Herman Baity in the 1920s, UNC and its School of Public Health have played a crucial role in developing systems to supply, treat and distribute water in North Carolina and around the world.
The conditions UNC contributed to tackling when the state was predominantly rural with deep rural poverty resonate with many of those we face today.
- In 1840 only 28% of adult males could read in North Carolina. Similar to current rates of literacy in Niger.
- In 1923 rural sanitation in North Carolina was dire. A survey of rural families showed that none of the tenant farmers surveyed had running water and only eight of 175 had outside privies. Similar to the circumstances of rural Somalia today.
- Again in 1923, the average daily income for a member of a sharecropping family was 9 US cents, which now holds an economic value similar to a dollar a day; the same reality as today’s subsistence farmers.
- Cholera also had a devastating effect as early pandemics spread across the country killing more than 200,000 Americans. Current rates are up to 5.5% in newly burgeoning urban areas.
"Cholera was conquered in this country by the introduction of basic sanitary measures. And it can be conquered by basic sanitary measures again today." - Bartram, 2010
The current international situation, now widely recognized to constitute a global water crisis, creates an imperative to redefine and escalate effective action. UNC recognizes that water is a linchpin of public health in the 21st century and that it therefore has both the opportunity and the responsibility to take its leadership role in water, health and development to a new level. The Water Institute is UNC's mechanism to achieve this.
The Gillings School of Global Public Health and its Environmental Sciences and Engineering department (ESE) are both internationally recognized as leaders in their respective fields and known for their collaborative and cross-disciplinary approach to water, health, and the environment. Building on these strengths, the Water Institute will leverage existing resources and activities to attract large-scale support and achieve high impact through focused, coordinated efforts.
"We have so much work ahead of us. Our to-do list is nothing less than the greatest problems of our time." - UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, 2010
It is at the interface of water and sanitation with health and development that The Water Institute at UNC intends to fortify its position as a premier educational institution for the next generation of global leaders in water, sanitation and health. The Institute serves as a dynamic interdisciplinary hub that fosters partnerships among faculty, students and collaborators from North Carolina and across developed and developing nations worldwide; also focusing on innovative and visionary approaches to transform the water and sanitation landscape.
"We have chosen water as one of our School’s four strategic public health priorities – the others are global health, health disparities, and obesity – because without accessible, affordable, safe water and adequate sanitation, effective disease prevention will elude the majority of humankind." - Barbara Rimer, Dean of the Gillings School of Global Public Health, 2010
The Water Institute at UNC seeks solutions to local, regional and global water and sanitation challenges by creating strong partnerships, encouraging innovation, and assuring that research is translated into sustainable practice.