Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Cutting big problems down to size
We all know what high technology is: big capital investment, lots of moving parts, no human intervention required. But a term that I may have invented, "low technology," is much more promising to solve the world's problems. A great example of this is a water treatment plant established in the Tanzanian village of Ndoela, which has conquered "stomach illness" (presumably dysentery and perhaps parasitic diseases). Total cost: maybe $15. They put water in plastic bottles on the roof. Now, this is not a perfect solution. Plastic contains plasticizers, which leach out and are suspected of causing hormonal disruption. Also, UV radiation reverses the polymerization process of many materials, leading to degradation and leaching out of potentially dangerous monomer. But one can easily imagine, say, glass containers that wouldn't have those problems. Or maybe there are plastics that have better properties. Or maybe charcoal could be used to further purify the water. This idea is being promoted by a group called Plan International A low tech NGO that I favor is Trees, Water, People. They produce very high-efficiency stoves for Central America and couple providing the stoves to reforestation.
The plastic coating would make the glass more resistant to accidental breakage, without affecting the water inside.
Low tech is a kind of intellectual haiku, in which one takes great complexity and reduces it to something that costs a few bucks.
More blogs about politics.