The book, which is published by Practical Action Publishing, taps into Duncan’s wealth of real-life examples of what has and hasn’t worked, to argue that motivated people working with a democratic government should drive international development, rather than looking at our traditional charity models.
I have to confess, I travelled down to Oxford with a degree of trepidation, spending much of it wondering how I, with less than six months experience working in development, could possibly carry off an interview with one of the most influential development thinkers around.
Fortunately, Duncan is not only an optimist who offers a vision of how poverty can be beaten, he is also highly engaging. During the interview he offered his personal views on Technology Justice, Schumacher’s economics, geo-engineering and the controversial subject of enabling economic development while being mindful of climate change.
You can watch Duncan’s full interview, first with me and then with Toby Milner, managing director of Practical Action Publishing by clicking on the links below:No Comments » | Add your comment
As dawn breaks in 2012 we enter the season of technology forecasting. What will new technologies bring us in 2012 and beyond? Most of these forecasts seem to dwell on the fortunes of the developed world. What about the majority of humanity (4 billion people live on less than US$5 per day)?
IBM put forward five forecasts for 2016, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16302566) one of these is that the digital divide will end. Whilst it is likely that more people in Asia and Africa will be able to own a cell phone or connect to the Internet it would be stretching credulity to suggest that these same people will have a similar level of affordability of digital technologies as those living in the developed world. Currently, in India there are 1.2 billion people who are not connected to the Internet. Most of these people live in rural areas where there may be a lack of ability to pay and a lack of access to electricity. So the digital divide in terms of affordable, accessible and appropriate devices is unlikely to be at an end by 2016. More needs to be done on energy access and on education to build the capabilities needed to use the technology.
In remote rural areas of developing countries few people have access to electricity. So ownership of a mobile phone might be a measure of “connectedness” or even of “progress” but if the phone can only be charged after a walk of 10 kilometres we may argue that there is a lack of appropriate accessible technology. A second important prediction relates to bio fuel cells (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15305579) reported by the BBC as “power from the people”. Perhaps that could be re-phrased as “power to the people”. Yet, in all likelyhood the applications of this new technology will be in medical appliances in developed countries. What if resources were put into developing this technology as an alternative, local power supply for rural communities in developing countries?
Technology will likely bring much that is new and exciting in 2012 and beyond. What can we do to increase the probability that these technologies will be applied to real need in developing countries? We need to work together with scientists to ensure that technologies are accessible, affordable and appropriate to the needs of people. Only then can we approach a state of technology justice in the world.
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To ensure the benefits of solar power are felt by the rural poor in remote communities at least two things need to happen. The technology needs to be more efficient and cheaper but also more innovation needs to be applied to the business models that favour decentralised, off-grid, small solar systems over centralised, fossil fuel-based solutions.
Beyond financing, there are other hurdles to improving access to solar power for the poor. These include improving local ownership of solar technologies, weaving off-grid solar systems into climate change policies and targets for reducing global emissions, and scaling up production technologies to reduce capital costs.
The bottom line is that scaling up solar power for the poor will depend on a mix of scientific improvements, policy initiatives, and collective action aimed at tackling climate change and electricity poverty.
Source: SciDev.Net 24 March 2010.No Comments » | Add your comment
The departments of Chemical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan, United States, and collaborators from Jiangnan University in China, have developed a new technique that uses carbon nanotubes to detect biological and chemical contaminants in water at very low concentration levels (Source: Nanowerk 2009). The news is to be welcomed because there is certainly a need for such a sensor which might be applied to detect the levels of arsenic in drinking water in Bangladesh and Nepal.
Yet, getting such innovative scientific breakthroughs into use in a developing country requires more than research effort by scientists. At the early stages of technology development there is a need to involve a variety of stakeholders in the design process. This was a point well taken at the Science, Technology and Innovation for Poverty Reduction seminar organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology yesterday – see earlier blog.
Wang, L. et al (2009) Simple, Rapid, Sensitive, and Versatile SWNT-Paper Sensor for Environmental Toxin Detection Competitive with ELISA Nano Letters, 9 (12), pp 4147-4152.No Comments » | Add your comment
According to a UN report in 2007 half the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people with water borne diseases. The challenge to poor people comes from both availability and access to water. For most poor people it is access to clean water that is the main issue. Inevitably access is governed by economics – the ability to pay. So the price point of water filter technology can be a crucial factor in adoption.
Water purification technologies have been around for many centuries so the main challenge for new technologies here is to introduce method of filtering water to a lower price point whilst at the same time providing an easy to use, safe, low maintenance, low energy system. Yesterday Tata lauched the swach (Hindi for clean) water filter for a price of Rs30 per month – with enough capacity for the water needs of a family of five. The product needs no electricity to work.
A further noteworthy feature is that the filter comprises both old and new technologies. The cartridge filter is made from rice husk ash impregnated with nano-silver particles and has a capacity of 3000 litres. Nano silver particles are now included in many products available to the consumer including items of clothing. Yet questions over the effects of nano silver on the environment and human health are little known and disputed by scientists. For example, Babu et al (2008) say “ nano-silver may cause potential damage to the genetic material and therefore the use of nano-silver in consumer products warrants a detail toxicological investigation to justify its safety”.
At the launch of the product the Chairman of Tata (Ratan Tata) acknowledged that water was the most basic of human needs. Potential consumers also need to know that the products have been adequately tested and will not pose undue threats to human or environmental health. It is hoped that Tata will publish their toxicity tests results in an open and transparent way.
K. Babu, M. Deepa, S. G. Shankar & S. Rai : Effect of Nano-Silver on Cell Division and Mitotic Chromosomes: A Prefatory Siren . The Internet Journal of Nanotechnology. 2008 Volume 2 Number 21 Comment » | Add your comment
Last night the Royal Society brought together leading thinkers to consider the future of nanotechnologies. The invitation to the event said, “It is five years since the publication of the landmark Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering report Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties. The report highlighted nanotechnologies’ promise as well as defining the path to responsible exploitation. Progress has been made toward its recommendations, but has attention lagged behind the pace of development?”
It was interesting that the speakers identified many “gaps” (between science and technology, academia and industry, and so on). One particular gap was not mentioned…that between the rich and the poor. Yet if we go back to the report published 5 years ago it identified a potential nanodivide (section 6.3).
Although there has been a great deal of positive work on upstream dialogues and public engagement on nanotechnologies, there still remains the illusive challenge of how to develop appropriate nanotechnologies to meet human needs. More practical research involving a range of stakeholders will be needed to learn about effective ways of reducing the gap between technology in developed countries and that in developing countries.No Comments » | Add your comment
The RS/RAEng report (published five years ago) raised concerns that there was a potential for nanotechnologies to intensify the gap between rich and poor countries.
Practical Action was consulted by the Royal Society working party and the following letter was published in The Guardian (20 August 2004):
“Our concern is that yet another new technology will over-promise and under deliver; that in addition to the already apparent “digital divide”, we may be on the verge of a “nanodivide”. We should ensure that nanotechnologies are harnessed for the benefit of all peoples in the world not just those who can afford to fuel a consumer boom of new products. Many poor people in the world have basic requirements – for water, energy, and food – that are as yet unfulfilled. We need to ensure that nanotechnologies are used to achieve wider social and environmental goals (eg sustainable energy), rather than meeting short-term or developed world “market opportunities” for products such as sunscreen.”
Five years on what progress has been made in harnessing nanotechnology for the benefit of poor people? It is true that there have been further nano-dialogues, including those undertaken by Practical Action in Zimbabwe, Peru and Nepal. Some engagement with scientists in developing countries has been made, for example Practical Action in Peru has been a catalyst for the development of a nanotechnology network. However there is scant evidence of specific applications of nanotechnology being developed for use in developing countries. Some solar power applications have been developed in South Africa and elsewhere and some novel methods of removing arsenic from drinking water are being tested in Mexico but to date few, if any of these innovations have been applied and certainly not at any scale. You might think this position is fine because it is “early days”. But experience suggests that if efforts are not made around a research agenda on social and ethical issues it could be too late to affect the overall business model.
Perhaps of even greater importance is conceiving research projects that will include partnerships in developing countries. Such partnerships should include scientists, NGO’s, Government agencies, and beneficiary communities.
For further reflections on the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering Report see the Report from the Responsible Nano Forum.No Comments » | Add your comment
Not always! Vicky Colvin (who I met over 3 years ago) and colleagues at Rice University have been working on what I often refer to as a “nano recipe for the poor”. The recipe uses “nanorust” to remove arsenic from water and according to press reports it is cheap. The “arsenic-removing technology is based on the unique properties of particles called “nanorust,” tiny bits of iron oxide that are smaller than living cells”. The “nanorust” binds with arsenic.
Earlier this week Rice University announced that it will do practical tests of this technology in Mexico later this year. A further benefit of this technology might be that it can filter out water borne viruses in addition to arsenic removal. Let us monitor the tests and watch with interest as the results come in.No Comments » | Add your comment
A big question! Yet this is what a workshop to be held in Kathmandu on 26 May 2009 will try to achieve. Practical Action Nepal, working with local partners including the Department for Water Supply and Sanitation and UNICEF will hold a multi-stakeholder workshop to explore the problems associated with current technologies used to sense the amount of arsenic in drinking water supplies in the Terai area of Nepal. Further information can be found elswhere on the Practical Action website.
An exciting day of discussion awaits…and further blogs will report on the process and outcomes.No Comments » | Add your comment
Earlier this week the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies published a report on: “Oversight of Next Generation Nanotechnologies“. The report makes the point that: “Oversight of new technologies in this century will occur in a context characterized by rapid scientific advancement, accelerated application of science and frequent product changes. The products will be technically complex, pose potential health and environmental problems and have an impact on many sectors of society simultaneously. They may also raise challenges to moral and ethical beliefs. Nanotechnology embodies all of these characteristics as well as particular ones that challenge conventional methods of risk assessment, standard setting and
The very characteristics of nanotechnologies and many new technologies more generally have changed since the systems of regulation were established. Therefore it is to be welcomed that this report takes a systems approach to the issues of regulation. One positive outcome of this approach is the identification of the need for public participation on the choices society makes about new technologies. Hopefully this could also include the need to balance market requirements with the needs of humanity.No Comments » | Add your comment