Ten Easy Technologies to Help the Poor

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HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Technology has a huge impact on the developing world and global poverty. In fact, the share of people living in poverty fell from 29 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2004 as a result of technological progress.

Low-income countries have progressed technologically twice as fast as high-income ones since the early 1990’s, although the rich-poor technology gap remains large and that “is likely to remain the case for the vast majority of developing countries,” says ‘Global Economic Prospects 2008: Technology Diffusion in the Developing World.’

1. Asia’s “Green Revolution”

The “green revolution” is a great example of how even simple technological advances in developing countries can have a huge positive impact on poverty levels. The movement was able to boost incomes and reduce overall poverty levels, according to a 2008 World Bank Global Economic Prospects report.

“Even though the impact of the green revolution on the poor was initially a source of controversy, by the late 1990’s it was clear that poor people had reaped substantial benefits from higher incomes, less expensive food, and increased demand for their labor,” said the report.

2. Micro-Irrigation

Israeli scientist Daniel Hillel’s innovation is known as micro-irrigation–the steady drip and trickle of small, finely calibrated amounts of water onto crops. Today, this has replaced the traditional cyclic flooding and drying of fields in over 30 countries.

The two-fold benefits of the practice include the conservation of scarce water resources and an increased crop yield due to moist soils. Hillel even personally taught his methods to farmers and governments in advisory missions to many different regions. Through this effort, Hillel has brought many people together and made a positive difference in their lives.

3. Integrated Pest Management

Pesticide as a means of crop protection began in 1952 in Pakistan. Along with irrigation and fertilizer, pesticide use doubled cereal production between 1970 and 1995.

However, the World Health Organization states pesticide poisoning affects 3 million people and accounts for 20,000 unintentional deaths a year.

Enter Integrated Pest Management (IPM): an effective and environmentally sound approach to pest management that does not rely on harsh chemicals to accomplish its goal. IPM uses relevant information on the life cycles of pests and their environmental interaction in combination with available natural pest control methods. This practice is much more economical and the least hazardous way of controlling pests.

4. Mobile Phones

Thirty percent of the electricity generated throughout the country of Nepal is used to charge mobile phones. Since the introduction of the technology into developing countries, the impact has been gigantic. These phones are enabling communication with loved ones while also stimulating rural economies, enabling grass-roots businesses to emerge, creating jobs and driving forward social change.

The great thing about mobile phones, according to World Bank economist Andrew Burns, is that they “require relatively few highly qualified people and are relatively easy to maintain, compared, say, to a fixed telephone system.”

5. Eneza

An educational non-profit, Eneza Education has helped provide schools, teachers and parents access to important data and suggestions to help students succeed. This organization is a mobile platform that allows its students (currently 100,000 people from over 400 different schools across Kenya) to access tools such as quizzes, mini-lessons and tips on local content via the web, mobile web and an USSD/SMS-based system.

6. Vaccinations

New drugs and vaccines are constantly being worked on. Poverty-related diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria are in continuous need of combat. Unfortunately, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as chagas disease, leprosy and rabies often go overlooked. Blue Marble Health looks to develop new vaccines for the aforementioned diseases in order to help reduce global poverty.

7. Proper Needle Disposal

At least 50 percent of injections in developing countries are unsafe. Reused needles can dramatically increase the risk of HIV, Hepatitis B and many other diseases and infections. Their unsafe disposal can also result in more problems; many people harvest them from the garbage and resell them, resulting in more infections. Even more horrifying is the fact that some children discover these needles and end up playing with them in garbage dumps.

The nonprofit organization PATH decided to take control of this issue with technologies meant to promote safe needle disposals. They have also worked with countries to obtain the supplies they need to make injections safe. The invention of “auto-disposable,” one-time use syringes helped to pioneer needle removal devices that isolate dirty needles in secure containers. This effort has the ability to save millions of lives.

8. Laptop Computers

Established in 2005 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop Per Child set out to transform education for disadvantaged school children by giving them the means to teach themselves and each other.

The laptop, called the XO, is sealed to keep out dirt, has a display that can be read in bright sunlight, runs on low power, and is rugged. It can survive extreme temperatures and heavy use. As of December 2009, there were just over 1.4 million XOs being used all over the world.

9. Efficient Water Fixtures

Replacing current construction practices and supporting the installation efficient shower heads, toilets and other water appliances can conserve one of Earth’s most precious resources: water. Examples of efficient fixtures include products from the EPA’s WaterSense program, as well as dual-flush and composting toilets.

10. Innovative Agricultural Methods

The online dictionary defines crop rotation as “the successive planting of different crops on the same land to improve soil fertility and help control insects and diseases.” This practice is beneficial in several ways; most notably because it is chemical-free. Crop rotation has been proven to maximize the growth potential of land, while also preventing disease and insects from infecting the soil used. Not only can this form of development benefit commercial farmers, but it can also aid those who garden at home.

– Samantha Davis

Sources: UniteforSight, Irin News, The Guardian, EPA, The World Bank
Photo: Oxfam Blog

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