RUGBY, United Kingdom — The importance of technology and technological solutions for development agendas has been gaining a great deal of traction in recent years. But while technology is targeted as a tool for development, the challenge is to isolate and deliver appropriate technology solutions which work for poor communities. This is a challenge which UK based Non-Government Organization (NGO) Practical Action has been working on for over 40 years.
“Practical Action’s Vision is one of Technology Justice: a sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used for the benefit of all”—their take on their founder’s, E. F. Schumacher, development theory of Intermediate Technology (now referred to as appropriate technology) which emphasized the use of less complex, smaller, decentralized, labor-intensive technologies which were appropriate and accessible for their users.
According to Practical Action’s CEO Simon Trace, current economic and technological advancements are focused on meeting the needs and wants of wealthy consumers in affluent countries. This “technology injustice” does little to help the more than 2 billion people living in poverty around the world.
One of Practical Action’s primary efforts is to provide basic energy access to the 1.4 billion people who are without it in places like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Senegal, Peru, Bolivia, Sudan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
In Peru, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Kenya, Practical Action has worked to establish micro-hydro power by harnessing energy from falling water. While modern hydro-electrical power requires complex, costly equipment such as dams and storage facilities, micro-hydro projects channel water from streams and rivers into valleys and drop it onto a turbine via pipeline called a penstock; the water turns the turbine which drives a generator providing electricity to the local community.
This low-cost alternative also has the benefit of being environmentally sustainable as the lack of dams and reservoirs avoids the potential for flooding and dispenses with the need for fossil fuels that power stations require.
What makes this appropriate technology even more practical is its capacity to supply charge to portable batteries. In turn, batteries can be conveniently supplied to villages to power domestic lighting and workshop machines, providing cheap, clean, renewable energy.
However, micro-hydro’s practical use does not end with charging batteries or providing direct electricity. For industrial uses, the output from the turbine shafts can be converted directly into mechanical energy to power milling, carpentry and oil extraction.
Being owned, operated and maintained by the local communities they power, micro-hydro provides tangible skills and employment opportunities that further make it a truly appropriate technology for development in Third World communities.
Micro-hydro is one example among several appropriate technology projects that Practical Action is working with. On access to energy, Practical Action is also implementing small-scale wind power, solar-powered water pumps, bio-gas and fireless cookers to name but a few. The organization is also working in food and agriculture, urban water and waste, disaster risk reduction and climate change projects by implementing practical solutions using appropriate technology to delivery technology justice for poor communities the world over.
– Pedram Afshar