In the Field With: David Berendes

David Berendes, a PhD candidate in Environmental Health Sciences, focuses his research on the household and neighborhood-level drivers of fecal contamination and enteric infection found in urban settings. He combines microbiology, epidemiology, and spatial analysis to assess the spread of fecal contamination in the urban environment.

David’s work is part of the SaniPath study, led by Dr. Christine Moe out of the Emory Center for Global Safe Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

David traveled to Vellore, India, in February 2015 for three weeks to collect data on household and neighborhood management of fecal sludge, taking the following photographs along the way

“Overall, I was extremely impressed by the work and the health-care system our colleagues at Christian Medical College had in place,” says David. “It was my first time working exclusively in an urban environment, and it was definitely eye-opening.” 

David is currently working on his dissertation; two of the papers are coming out of the data from his Vellore trip. Upon graduation, he plans to continue working in international WASH. While the U.S. will likely serve as his home base, David hopes his work continues to take him abroad (his WASH interests have also taken him to Rwanda and Haiti so far). 

“No location has the same challenges or quite the same solutions as another,” he says. “It’s through dealing with these varying contexts that we discover the common themes that truly work.”

Photo by David Berendes

You have a large open drain with lots of trash and toilet sludge in it, with pigs lying in the slop. Keep in mind that those pigs won't just live in these drains; they belong to someone, so they will be interacting with that person and his/her family, thus spreading the sludge around. Above and right, there's a drinking water line placed precariously next to the drain (not that it would fall in, but potentially it could be washed over by floodwater, etc.).

Photo by David Berendes

The beauty of the hillside is juxtaposed with the fact that it's an area where people defecate in the open. As you might guess, because it's on a hill above the town, everything probably runs downhill into the town (or at least to the open area where the animals are feeding in the picture). Part of my dissertation is working on these fecal flow connections in the town to look at the potential spread of feces within the town.

Photo by David Berendes

Here we have a smaller open drain in Vellore. The pipes emptying into the drain from the houses at right are from the toilet, showing us that the drains are acting as de facto sewers. Again, worthy to note the amount of trash in the open drain and its proximity to the road/lack of a cover, both of which indicate it will be flood-prone.