Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Great, Bill, but really? Appropriate Technology?

Normally I make a policy of not commenting on the efforts of others working with water and wastewater, because we need innovation and all  the best thinking we can get. But after seeing this, I just have to respond.
For context, some months ago I posted a blog post concerning how to select technologies in which I stated that there are fundamental requirements for any technology anywhere to be sustainable. These rules are summarized in the following graphic:

This Gate's technology would be great for anywhere there is the finance, technical and material support readily available to support it. I would love for every one of the Coal Bed Methane producers and Frackers to use this kind of engineering thinking to remove the associated pollutants so that the water could be released and reused safely. Also for military or other uses where there is an existing  strong and continuous support.

But it looks like they are thinking of this for developing country use. In this context it is a big negative. It will cease working when parts break, chemicals are not readily available, power fails, the technical expertise is not around, or the financial assets are not reliably available.

OK, so it quits working. So what. Probably financed by some sort of grants or loans from the North, No big deal...... Except for the end users.

If we are going to propose technologies that save lives and make lives better, it is a responsibility to make sure that we are proposing things that will work and be sustainable.

I have been a sad witness to many grand ideas originating in northern labs and think tanks in developing countries that looked great, but failed. When they fail, the people affected lose confidence in other proposals. Just last year, I was conversing with project directors for a drinking water project in India. We had come up with a solid, sustainable, appropriate solution using rainwater catchment and treatment. But, there was considerable resistance in the community. Why? Because previously, the same NGO had installed a high tech system that failed almost  immediately, irreparably.

Gate's foundation is doing amazing work all over the world to reduce poverty and help give people a chance to live better. On this one, they are missing the mark.

In our zeal to save the world, we need to be thoughtful about what we propose and the long term effects of our work.

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