It's exciting to see the topics I got to study while abroad having continuity years after having left. Heidi Gough, member of the UW Civil & Environmental Engineering faculty - who also led our study abroad group, is part of a research team looking at ways to improve wastewater treatment systems at refugee camps.
The group is encountering a question that I often came across while researching for my senior capstone: Why are we trying to make refugee camps better? What is the point of making these spaces more suitable and thoughtfully designed for refugees and aid organizations when our ultimate goal is to not have refugee camps in the first place?
I agree that we should be moving away from refugee camps altogether. The policies that we need should favor integrating refugees into existing urban areas, where integration into host countries is more seamless and where refugees are not isolated in a "camp" where they must rely on foreign aide for stability.
However, while we transition away from refugee camps - a transition that could take decades until full implementation - what is our strategy in the meantime? Under-functioning support centers for the world's most vulnerable populations? Refugee camps need to be better because refugees deserve humane, clean, and safe spaces. This is why this team's research is important. Even if we will not need to be treating wastewater in refugee camps in the future, what is gained from this study will help us improve relatively small-scale treatment systems for other types of settlements.