Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Man with a mission

Working lives - Quentin Rea connected water engineering with saving lives at an early age. He has just returned from working in Sri Lanka.

Just three weeks after the Boxing Day Tsunami struck, Quentin Rea was out in Sri Lanka project managing water engineering relief work for Oxfam.

The Mott MacDonald senior water engineer spent three months dealing with the chaos of the Tsunami's aftermath, providing clean water and sanitary facilities at refugee camps and building a new water treatment plant.

'Camps sprang up quite randomly, some in a controlled manner, but some NGOs set up camps without toilet facilities, ' he says.

Recommended to Oxfam by engineering disaster relief agency RedR, Rea must have been an obvious choice. In a sense, his whole career has been geared towards that kind of work.

'As a teenager I saw the huge need for water in the developing world and I think by the time I did my A levels I knew I wanted to be an engineer.' Rea took a degree in civil engineering at UMIST and followed it with an MSc in irrigation engineering at Southampton University.

Joining Babtie Shaw & Morton (now Jacobs Babtie) in Glasgow as a graduate engineer, Rea worked on building and refurbishing water treatment works.

Rea moved up the ranks to design engineer and became chartered, but in 1993 he saw a chance to do what he had really always wanted.

'Although I wasn't unhappy at Babtie, I had always wanted to work overseas.' In 1993 Rea left to work for VSO on an assignment in Namibia with the directorate of rural water supply. The recently independent country had suffered a severe drought. 'They were desperate to get more rural water supplies in place.' Rea and his team implemented a new water infrastructure policy which was demand driven, participatory and sustainable.

They set up a water users' fee system to ensure maintenance cost recovery.

'Namibia is such an arid country that people really appreciate the value of water so it is easy to work with them, ' he says.

When his partner got a job with Unicef in South Africa in 1995, Rea followed and worked with the Ministry of Water Affairs & Forestry on a reconstruction and development programme.

'At the end of apartheid and with the first democratic elections there was huge optimism and a hope to improve conditions for deprived parts of South Africa.' Rea liaised with and advised regional offices on how to make those improvements.

After another spell in Namibia working on rural water infrastructure, and now with two children, the couple decided to move back to the UK.

Rea joined Black & Veatch and worked with Northumbrian Water and contractor Gleeson on the Darlington Broken Scar water treatment works project.

'It was a great experience - a good team project. It went really smoothly and everyone was prepared to make an effort to make it work rather than fight their own corner.' But he was missing the travel and moved to consultant Mott MacDonald 'because it gave more prospects for international work'. Since joining in 2001 Rea has spent two thirds of his time abroad, working in Indonesia, Abu Dhabi, and India.

The challenge now is how to combine his desire to work overseas with the demands of a young family.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.