Engineering solutions for developing nations

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Human­i­tarian projects in devel­oping coun­tries, such as building a potable water system in Africa or a new hos­pital in Haiti, require devel­opers to con­sider a unique set of concerns.

“When you’re working in a devel­oping country, you have to approach things com­pletely dif­fer­ently,” said 2011 civil engi­neering grad­uate Ann Polaneczky, a project engi­neer for Part­ners in Health, a nonprofit international health and social justice orga­ni­za­tion. “Your approach has to address anthro­po­log­ical and cul­tural con­cerns because if you just try to apply what works here in the United States, you’re not going to succeed.”

Polaneczky began working with Part­ners in Health as a co-​​op stu­dent tasked with designing a waste­water treat­ment plant for a hos­pital the non­profit was building in Mire­balais, Haiti. The country lacks a cen­tral­ized civil infra­struc­ture system, and the hos­pital needed help removing its sewage, which, if pumped into a river, had the

After grad­u­a­tion, Polaneczky joined Part­ners in Health in a full-​​time capacity. Now she visits Haiti for approx­i­mately one week each month, over­seeing the imple­men­ta­tion of her designs in the hos­pital, which is nearly fin­ished. “It’s amazing to be walking around in your own draw­ings,” she said.

Over the next six to 12 months, Polaneczky and her co-​​workers will ensure that the hos­pital is fully func­tional, devel­oping sys­tems and processes to guar­antee the facility remains capable of serving the health needs of its patients. World leaders including World Bank Pres­i­dent Jim Yong Kim and Haitian Pres­i­dent Michel Joseph Martelly have noted that the facility’s ser­vices are unmatched throughout the nation.

“This hos­pital will offer crit­i­cally impor­tant ser­vices,” Polaneczky said. “It’s the only endoscopy lab in the country, and the hos­pital has the only neonatal inten­sive care unit. It’s one of the few places where emer­gency rooms will be able to per­form Cae­sarian sec­tions and help preg­nant women and their chil­dren who might oth­er­wise not survive.”

As a North­eastern stu­dent, Polaneczky served as pres­i­dent of the university’s chapter of Engi­neers Without Bor­ders, over­seeing devel­op­ment projects in Africa and Hon­duras. In 2010, the national orga­ni­za­tion named her one of nine “Emerging Leaders,” citing her work to create infra­struc­ture that changed the lives of people in the devel­oping world.

“These projects are impor­tant to me because I can see the impact,” Polaneczky said. It’d be hard to get the same sat­is­fac­tion from doing some­thing like fixing a side­walk so that it meets ADA spec­i­fi­ca­tions com­pared to pro­viding water to an entire vil­lage or health­care where it’s needed most.”