(NewsUSA) – Humanitarian outreach to the victims of natural disasters and poverty oftentimes includes the work of medical professionals, missionaries and other volunteer organizations in an effort to bring emergency relief, aid and comfort. Now, engineers are responding to the growing need to serve in humanitarian roles, building emergency shelters and designing sustainable technology systems to provide assistance and hope in many areas of the developing world.

Humanitarian engineering has come to be defined as “design under constraints to directly improve the wellbeing of underserved populations.” It has roots dating back to the French Revolution, when a group of engineers at the Ecole Polytechnic debunked Napoleon’s military aims and sought instead to employ their technical skills to work for social justice.

More than 200 years later, engineers remain dedicated to helping those in need. Today’s

socially conscious engineers, particularly students, are working on the scene in underdeveloped communities around the world, to help create a new future for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. For example, seven engineering students at Dartmouth College recently visited the village of Banda, Rwanda, to design and build a small-scale hydropower system to provide lighting for local residents. After the system was installed, the students trained the villagers on its operations and sustainable maintenance.

Recently, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) created a Web-based open-source project hosted by Western Kentucky University, in which engineers and engineering students collaborated on the design of a human-powered water purifier for use in remote regions of the developing world and locations affected by natural disasters and other catastrophes.

ASME is a partner with the group Engineers Without Borders-USA, which operates more than 400 projects in water treatment, renewable energy and sanitation in about 45 developing countries worldwide. Academic institutions, such as Valparaiso University in Indiana and the Colorado School of Mines, are teaching the value of the engineers’ worth to society by establishing a humanitarian engineering minor within the core curriculum.

At ASME, a good mechanical engineer is many things, among them a public servant. Going forward, ASME will encourage engineers to use their skills and expertise to create lasting solutions to improve the quality of life of individuals and communities in need. For information about ASME, visit www.asme.org.