Engineers without borders

Engineers without borders


Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB)

EWB is a non-profit organisation that acts in Australia as well as in other countries, in order to come in need to the most deprived communities. EWB Australia was created in 2003 by a group of enthusiastic engineers from Melbourne who strive to make changes for a better world, by taking actions and leading on the engineering front. EWB's vision is to make technology, adequate infrastructures and the basic needs available to each and everyone, thus offering same rights and equality of chances for all. This is done through sustainable means and in deep respect of the environment for better development of societies. (Engineers Without BordersAbout us)

Kooma Nation Background

EWB has shown great concern for the Millenium Development Goals set by the United Nations and has greatly participated in the redevelopment plan of many remote indigenous lands. One of which is the Kooma Nation, located in the South-Western region of Queensland, composed of the Bendee Downs and Murra Murra communities. The Kooma land spreads over 90, 000 ha and is occupied by 2 aboriginal families. For around 100 years, this land was a sheep and cattle station, accommodating a shearing shed as well as other infrastructures such as an airstrip but all these have been left in deplorable conditions mainly after Kooma Traditional Owners Association Incorporated (KTOAI), one of the main partners of the EWB in this project, has declared 24,000 ha of the land a Nature Refuge to preserve the land's rare biodiversity.

The Kooma Land is also blessed by the crossing of the Nebine River and the accumulation of water in wet lands due to abundant rainfalls that massively contributes in the regeneration of the fauna and flora in this region. The geographic location and the flat surface of the Kooma land also impedes the tendency of extreme climate conditions which temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius in summer.

On the other hand, being a remote and isolated area, the Kooma land lags behind in terms of development and self sufficiency. The Murra Murra and Bendee Downs are connected are to the main power grid.  However, the bills have proved to be excessively high reaching in all about $6,000 quarterly. Being in a poor economical situation, it will be difficult for the community to cope in the future with further development. Also, the location of the community restricts its access to a conventional waste management system. Therefore the Kooma land's biodiversity is threatened by rubbish dumps which need to be cleared to offer a clean and safe environment for the community and the various species living there to prosper.


EWB's vision is that “every individual and community has adequate access to resources, knowledge and technology necessary to meet their self-indentified human needs.” For this challenge, there is also another revelation; that is to reduce the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, which basically means to provide the Indigenous of Kooma Nation the opportunity to live their lives like a modern Australian citizen.()

In order to achieve this, massive efforts have to be made on different grounds. Primarily, energy and waste management would be of uttermost concern for the welfare of the Kooma Nation. This is why the EWB is urging to find alternative, sustainable and efficient solutions for the community.


Our vision for the energy plan of the Kooma community would be to explore new alternative and environmental-friendly sources of energy to reduce the community's dependency on the main power grid and hence improving their economy. For this purpose, the EWB and KTOAI have already started considered Solar energy and have catered for the installation of solar panels in September 2009 that provides energy for the Homestead in Bendee Downs but this will not be sufficient as the demand for power will gradually increase as development will follow.

Other alternatives could also be considered by taking advantage of the structure of the land or the Nebine River to develop new energy sources to meet the needs of the community.

Waste Management

Another main challenge for the Kooma Nation would be the waste management. Due to their isolated position, it was not possible to set up a proper waste management plan for the community. The only actual common practice by the Kooma people to get rid of the waste is by burning them. This is not an environmental friendly method and is not at all productive. The EWB and the KTOAI have recently grouped a team of volunteers to clean the land in April 2007 and are now implementing a waste management project. But this only had an effect on short-term basis.

The new vision would be finding a sustainable and non-polluting way of managing the wastes should be investigated to provide a clean and safe environment for the Kooma people. This could be done by setting up recycling plants or finding adequate transports to take the waste to the nearest waste recycling plants. It has could be considered that through proper education and using the adequate infrastructures, the Kooma people could learn to reduce their waste, reuse them, recycle them or even use them to produce energy.  (EWB Challenge 2010 Design Brief)

The above mentioned information clear specifies the actual situation of the Kooma Nation and their requirements to develop into a progressing society. Therefore the whole project should be effective, carrying the lowest costs possible and applicable for the Kooma Nation. A rough estimate state that the energy and waste management plan would be near the $10 million.

Project Components

For the sake of the Kooma Nation project the EWB has listed a few factors that could be considered in the realisation of the project in the respective design areas.

(1) Energy

Solar Energy:

The installation of photovoltaic cells has already been implemented in Bendee Downs to provide for the energy for the Homestead but it would be insufficient for new infrastructures. Therefore new ways chould be found to increase its efficiency and minimise power loss in order to be more productive. In this optic, more solar panels with higher efficiency could be installed to meet the new energy needs. This will require a sufficiently large open area. The cost of solar panels is expensive (approx. $ 6,000/ Solar Tracking Systems) but proves to be very economical on a long term. They convert energy from the sun, which is free; into electricity which would be a good alternative source of energy for the Kooma Nation. Futhermore, excess energy could be redirected to the main power grid to receive additional income.

Wind Energy:

In the same way wind is a renewable source of energy that is free and making it an eligible field to be exploited. Despite that the Kooma lands only have occasional strong winds, this could correspond to peak moment of the year for a boom in the tourism industry and would match perfectly to try maximising the incomes by saving on energy and receiving income from coming tourists. The installation of a wind turbine (approx. $ 25,000 each/energy matters) is almost 20% less than solar panels and but has a major drawback, that is, loud and disturbing noises from rotating blades. But considering the immensity of the land, it should be possible to find non-residential areas for the set up.

Hydro Energy:

The presence of the Nebine river and considering the amount of rainfall that causes occasional large flows of water could be used to generate electricity in hydro electric power stations. This requires a high investment cost ”The actual cost of producing power will vary from power plant to power plant with one of the main variables being the size of the plant” (Hydropower FAQ/What does hydropower cost?) and constant monitoring but it is a very effective way of producing electricity and which will have no impact on the environment.


Used oil from households could be use to produce bio-diesel by chemical processing to run vehicles that would be required for building tasks and later on for transport system to serve both Kooma people and tourists. Bio-gas could be used as an alternative source of energy to help decrease the dependency on the main power grid and to reduce pollution. This will also be a good alternative to the actual cooking system. Both means are efficient and easily produced but only require a suitable infrastructure for production. This will definitely need high investment (approx. US$700,000/ Plant Design and Drawing) and latest technology materials but will prove to be very economical on a long term.


Through proper education, the Kooma people could be pointed towards sustainable investment such as replacing incandescent bulbs by fluorescent ones which are energy saving and lasts longer. Other common practices could also be taught to save energy but should be taught through good communication programs.

(2) Waste Management

Burning wastes:

Wastes could be burned in special designed incinerators and the heat produced used to produce electricity using generators. The smoke produced could then be treated to limit impacts on the surrounding environment. The price for an incineration plant will depend on its size and number of generators.

Reuse wastes:

Some waste products can be re-used for other purposes. The wastes should be analysed and other uses that could benefit the community could figured out. For example, used cans can be turned into artisanal products if the aboriginal people are taught how to make it by considering the safety issues involved. This can be used to generate income by selling the products to tourists.


A recycle pant could be introduced in the community to recycle glass, paper or plastic so that they can be reused or sold to provide an income. This will require the set up of the infrastructure and appropriate machineries Expertise will also be required for constant monitoring. This project may also provide jobs for the local community. Set up price will vary accordingly and is usually quite high.

Composting systems for household waste:

The Kooma people could learn to use their household waste such as dead vegetation to manufacture compost which could be used in farms for a better agriculture.

Reducing waste:

Through proper education, the Kooma people can learn how to make efficient use of the products they are using and how to minimise wastes.


Bendee towns and Murra Murra, being isolated places will be difficult to access and bringing materials there and will result in high costs in terms of transportation. This will also increase the time taken for completion of the project. The Kooma Nation is a deprived community receiving low income and will require financial help to develop these projects. This will impose a limitation on the actions to be taken as a budget will have to be respected. Also being an Aboriginal Community and having sacred traditional values, all development should be done in order to preserve those traditions. Therefore the project should be accepted by the Kooma people in the first place. Introducing new technologies in the daily lives of aboriginal people could be difficult. The use and safety issues should be taught to them to prevent any accident.


The project brief has described in detail the aim and objectives of the EWB in order to provide adequate energy resources and an effective waste management plan for the Kooma community. Both fields stated have to be specifically explored in order to find the best adapted solutions. Therefore they should be sustainable, environmental friendly, affordable, easily maintained and that do not interfere with the Kooma traditional values.

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