this photo shows a Mercer University student assisting with construction of a stone masonry water tank in the Dominican Republic.

New Mercer University Center Could Provide Millions With Access to Clean Water

A new center at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University aims to help the world’s most water-poor communities get access to clean water.

Mercer University established the Cecil Day Family Center for International Groundwater Innovation on June 11. The center, led by Dr. Michael MacCarthy, will accelerate efforts in the Mercer On Mission program and Mercer’s School of Engineering to solve water problems around the world, particularly in developing countries.

The Cecil Day Family Center for International Groundwater Innovation was seeded with a seven-figure gift from Deen Day Sanders, a Mercer alumna and former trustee from Atlanta.

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“The University is deeply grateful to Deen Day Sanders for this significant gift that will literally bring clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood. “The solutions that will come out of the Cecil Day Family Center for International Groundwater Innovation, working with local community leaders initially in the Dominican Republic, Madagascar and Uganda, will be a game-changer in developing sustainable, replicable methods of delivering clean water to the thirsty throughout the world.”

Sanders’ late husband, Cecil B. Day Sr., founded Days Inns of America and was a noted philanthropist. He is the namesake Mercer’s graduate and professional campus in Atlanta.

“We look forward to building upon Mercer’s successes over the past decade working with local actors in developing communities to improve access to safe drinking water,” said MacCarthy, assistant professor of environmental and civil engineering and director of the Engineering for Development program.

MaCarthy said the new center “allows us the opportunity to contribute significantly to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal target of providing safe water for all by the year 2030, which we aim to do through working with collaborators globally to focus on some of the hardest to reach households and communities.”

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“In addition to service and research, the center will use innovative and practical ways to teach sustainable groundwater topics to Mercer students and project beneficiaries,” he added.

Globally, more than one billion people lack access to clean, safe water, and two million die annually as a result of drinking contaminated water. The United Nations declared the decade of 2018-2028 as “the water decade,” noting that “the world is careening towards a global water crisis.”

The work of the Cecil Day Family Center will focus on three core components—household self-supply, small community water systems and global groundwater innovation—to provide an extensive approach to tackling the global water crisis.

“For many years I have been interested in the environment and water quality in particular,” Sanders said. “This program, that also supports students in their desire to learn and to help others in need, certainly aligns with those interests. I am blessed to be a part of it.”

Mercer students, community members and technicians stand in front of a stone masonry water tank in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by Dr. Michael MacCarthy/Mercer On Mission)

Through the Mercer On Mission program, the University has been addressing the urgent need for access to clean water since 2010 in Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda and the Dominican Republic.

“This incredibly generous gift by Deen Day Sanders to the Mercer On Mission program will bring together world-renowned researchers and practitioners to address one of the world’s most perilous crises: lack of access to clean water,” said Dr. Craig McMahan, Mercer University minister and dean of Chapel, who oversees Mercer On Mission. “Combining tried-and-true methods with breakthrough technology, the project launched by this gift will save the lives of thousands of people and will bring health and hope to millions more. What a fitting expression of the vision and compassion that have always been at the center of Deen Day Sanders’ life.”

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In the years ahead, hundreds of Mercer students will engage in Mercer On Mission programs in impoverished areas of Africa and the Caribbean while taking courses from and serving closely with MacCarthy, a leading expert on cost-effective rural water supply solutions in the developing world. Scores of other students will join MacCarthy’s research groups to design and test cutting-edge innovations in groundwater protocols and technology.

The Cecil Day Family Center will allow MacCarthy and his students to move into a new phase of their collaborative work with Dr. John Cherry and Dr. Beth Parker of the G360 Institute for Groundwater Research at the University of Guelph in Canada, a world-leading group in fractured-rock and applied groundwater research. Cherry and Parker are internationally renowned hydrogeologists, and Cherry is the 2020 recipient of the Stockholm Water Prize, the world’s most prestigious water award.

The center’s activities will be aimed at bringing access to safe water to tens of thousands of people, while also piloting and refining innovative systems that have the potential to bring first-time access to clean water to tens of millions of the people living in rural mountainous communities worldwide.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Mercer University website.

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