A budding engineer from Tasmania has helped improve drinking water systems in the South-east Asian nation of Cambodia during a humanitarian trip.

24 year old Talbot Matthews, an engineering honours student from the University of Tasmania, was given the opportunity by Engineers Without Borders and Rainwater Cambodia to apply his knowledge and expertise to making rainwater tanks at Cambodian schools more affordable, as well as easier to build and maintain.

Matthews has focused for the past year on the development of better designs for concrete water tanks, and relished the chance to bring the fruit of his efforts to communities where it can truly make a difference.

Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in South-east Asia, and continues to suffer from low drinking water and hygiene standards even compared to other developing economies in the region.

The country is one of the worst places in the world for illnesses caused by the consumption of unsanitary water, with figures from Planet Water indicating that 74 per cent of all deaths in Cambodia are the result of waterborne diseases. Cambodia has the highest death rate for children under five the entire Asia-Pacific, with eight per cent of such deaths caused by diarrhoea caused by unclean water.

Talbot Matthews

The solutions devised by Matthews are especially well-suited to rural communities, as they do not involve expensive technologies, and can be constructed on site using locally sourced materials.

Matthews considers his work to fall within the category of “humanitarian engineering,” and finds it highly rewarding to use his skills as an engineer to improves the quality of life of others, or in the case of making potable water more accessible to the needy, even save the lives.

“The aim of humanitarian engineering is to build the capacity of the communities, impart skills that leave them empowered and with the ability to maintain current structures and develop into the future,” Matthews said.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology Tasmania Network recently announced that Matthews was the winner of its Present Around the World Competition, open to fledgling engineers between the age of 18 and 26, for his presentation on humanitarian engineering.