Blogs tagged as technology justice

  • Turning cow poo into electricity

    Sanjib Chaudhary

    April 6th, 2015

    It was drizzling when we drove to the biogas electrification project site. Going through the maze of roads, it took us 45 minutes from Narayanghat, the main market in the Chitwan district, to reach there.

    Chitwan, in the southern plains in Nepal, is home not only to the magnificent royal Bengal tigers and one-horned rhinoceroses but also a happening trade hub. Regarded as the country’s poultry capital, with the establishment of Nepal’s largest milk industry, Chitwan is seeing a wave of innovation in agriculture sector.

    Adding to the list of innovations is the biogas electrification project being run at the Livestock Development Resource Centre of the Annapurna Dairy Producers’ Cooperative (ADPC). The project, supported by Practical Action, boasts of being the first in Nepal to generate electricity for commercial use from biogas.

    A small scale study on bio-electrification through agricultural and livestock waste was carried out by students of Kathmandu University earlier, producing electricity to light 9 LED lights, each of 5 W.

    When I reached the site, Bodh Raj Pathak, the vice-president of the cooperative, drenched in the rain, was waiting for me to show the centre.

    The first thing he did was to switch on the system. He then one by one switched on the bulbs and fans. For a technology loving person like me, it was a real pleasure – all were working as if they were running from regular electricity.

    The gas generated from the dung of 85 cows is enough to generate electricity that can run a generator of 5kW load continuously for 8-9 hours, according to Pathak. Few months ago the centre had more than 100 cows. Some of the cows were sold to the community people on demand.

    The cows at the Dairy produce a trailer of cow dung daily that goes into the digester for biogas generation. There are two inlets and two outlets.

    “Currently, only one inlet is being used and it works for 8-9 hours,” said Pathak. “If both the inlets operate, it will produce electricity for 16 hours.”

    The process is simple – the dung, urine and water are mixed into a concoction. The mixture is then fed through the inlet to the chamber. The gas generated is passed through a filter to get rid of the precipitates and then to the generator that produces electricity.

    Right now the Dairy is using the electricity for light bulbs, fans, water pump and a chaff cutter. The gas is also being used to cook food for six staff at the Dairy.

    The Dairy has plans to utilise the biogas for pasteurisation of milk. Right now it is saving Rs. 30,000 – 35,000 rupees per month in fuelwood. After the full utilisation, the Dairy will save around Rs 100,000 (USD 1000) per month.

    However, the slurry, a precious fertiliser has not been well managed. It was left to dry in the open. Pathak told me that they have plans to dry the slurry and package it as organic fertiliser.

    Looking at the outputs of the pilot project, the prospects are promising in spite of the dismal data of electricity contributing to the total energy consumption and use of biogas in Nepal.

    According to the Water Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) Energy Sector Report 2010, electricity contributes only 2% to the total energy consumption by fuel types in Nepal. As per Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, the government apex body for the development and promotion of renewable energy, there are more than 300,000 biogas plants in Nepal.

    In Nepal, cooking and lighting are the main purposes biogas has been mainly used for, amounting to 80% and 20% respectively. The successful biogas electrification in Chitwan has opened doors for using biogas to produce electricity and scaling up the technology at the cooperatives throughout Nepal.

    While 1.3 billion people are still living in darkness with no access to electricity and 2.7 billion still cook over open fires, replication of innovations like biogas electrification will help us move from a state of technology injustice, to find a way to remove the barriers that now prevent poor people from using the technologies they need for the most basic of services.

    With technical details from Ganesh R Sinkemana

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  • Communities live with dignity after ODF declaration

    Dev Bhatta

    March 26th, 2015

    It sounds simple to people who have access to basic sanitation facilities. But a technology as simple as a pit latrine is a subject of luxury for a lot of people. It is an alarming fact that even today, more than half of Nepal’s population defecate in open. The trends are changing gradually and the people living in urban areas have fancy bathrooms in their homes, but there still are a huge number of people who do not have access to this very basic facility.

    Only six months ago, people from 197 households in Balapur in Gulariya Municipality-6, Bardiya District of Nepal defecated in open. In a community comprising of total 274 households, only 50 had biogas toilets. Kali Prasad Chaudhary, the Chair of Ward Citizen Forum, recalls the situation caused by regular floods sweeping away limited temporary toilets, lack of awareness and habit of open defecation.

    There were a number of organisations implementing different projects in this community but sanitation was given the least priority. Chaudhary shares, “When a guest would arrive in the community, it used to be an embarrassing situation if they were not used to defecating in open. Various water borne diseases were common mainly among children and elderly people. Instead of getting to know the actual reason behind people would blame God if somebody died.”

    But things have changed for better for this community. At this stage, five communities of Balapur have become Open Defecation Free (ODF) as 247 households have broken off from the traditional practice of defecating in the open after constructing toilets at their homes.

    Indira Chaudhary (34) one of the community member says, “I learned about the negative effects of open defecation, and I did not want to be the one contributing to the pollution of environment and exposing other people to risks. I find it very convenient to use a toilet instead of going to the bush. This gives me privacy to do my business with dignity.” Her five member family is very happy to have a bio-gas toilet installed at their home.

    This change became possible in the community after, Practical Action and Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) launched SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya project in August 2014 for two years in collaboration with Gulariya municipality including other INGOs with an objective to declare an Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015. The project operates with an innovative community mobilisation approaches through HCES (Household Centered Environmental Sanitation), CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation) and SLTS (School Led Total Sanitation) for activating communities to progressively work towards stopping open defecation in the entire municipality.

    Indira Chaudhary  cleaning up her toilet

    Indira Chaudhary cleaning up her toilet

    According to Kali Prasad Chaudhary, “Among all these initiatives, the video documentary and street drama shows on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) were found to be effective in touching the hearts of community people.”

    Likewise, Ram Prasad Chaudhary from Gulariya Municipality opines, “In accordance with the national target on sanitation, Gulariya Municipality has committed to achieve ODF in the municipality by 2015. To make this mission a success, we have started provision of sanitation card.” He claimed that the success of ODF declaration in Balapur was due to the sanitation card.

    The understanding of Sabitra Gautam, President of W WASH CC (Ward WASH Coordination Committee) is different than that others. She claimed that bal hath and stri hath (recurring pressure from children and female respectively) played crucial role to success the mission. From her statement, it is clear that there was repeated effort of children and female to construct toilets.

    “Now, we are living with pride and dignity due to improved sanitation facilities in the community,” said Kali Prasad Chaudhary. “It is not easy for poor families from indigenous groups to spare money required to build their individual toilets when it can be done for free in the fields. Balapur people thank Gulariya Municipality, Practical Action, UN Habitat, ENPHO, W WASH CC and all involved TLOs for their tireless effort to make this happen and succeeding in declaring entire Balapur community Open Defecation Free (ODF).”

    UK AIDIt was not possible from a little effort to construct all the toilets (197) within a short period of time. The joint effort of community people, local institutions and district level stakeholders coming together, working towards ODF target made the mission possible and thus, the people from Balapur could have access to this basic sanitation facility. The importance of such thing a lot of times gets overlooked, but access to technologies like a simple toilet helps people to build a life pride and dignity.

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  • A step towards a JUST world

    Swarnima Shrestha

    March 22nd, 2015

    A proper toilet, water supply and electricity – these are some basic necessities of our lives. What can be more inconvenient than not having a toilet around when you need it? Imagine waking up every day not knowing how you would manage to collect the water required for the day! It might be hard for us to even imagine, but it is a reality that too many people are living every day. While the technologies have advanced to the level where we have self-cleaning high-tech toilets; it is estimated that worldwide 2.6 billion have no access to sanitation and 1.3 billion to safe water. The world sure in an unjust place.

    Compost-toilet-in-NepalThe people of Shreeramnagar, a slum settlement at Butwal – 4, Rupendehi district of Nepal are a part of that 1.3 Billion. Water crisis is a part of their lives. They have to go to the neighbouring localities to collect water, which is a time consuming and tiring work. The settlement is not recognised by the government which does not support any development of infrastructures in the community so the people have nowhere to turn to seek help. But the people of the community – had had enough of this injustice and took charge to solve their own problem.

    “We didn’t know how to tackle this problem,” says Narayan Lal Ghimere, a local resident. “But now, we are able to come up with a solution after we got training from ‘Delivering Decentralisation’ project. After the training, we have formed a committee to address different kinds of problems existing in our community. With the involvement of community people, we decided that we need to construct a water tank with a huge storage capacity for the equal and uninterrupted water supply in our locality,” he further adds.

    They have formed a committee for the construction of the water tank to carry forward the work effectively and make the whole process participatory. The initiation was led by the community themselves with little support from the project. Everything from the planning stage was discussed and decided by the community.

    A member of the working committee, Sabitra Devi Panthi says, “We were able to learn a lot of things and got inspired to take the initiatives ourselves, after the training provided by the project. So, we made a collective decision to construct the water tank. We were motivated because we received 75 per cent of the construction cost from the project and the rest we collected amongst ourselves. Those who couldn’t pay the required amount, volunteered for the labour work to make up for it.”

    Now, the construction is complete, and people of this community have for the first time in their lives, access to clean water. “We did a grand inauguration of the water tank and water supply lines. It was such a proud movement for the whole community. The regular water supply has made our lives so much easier and our locality is cleaner now. It more beneficial to housewives like us, who had to spend a lot of time fetching water, now we are able to use the saved time in other productive activities,” adds Sabitra.

    She further says, “I did not know that having a water supply could change our lives so much. It has improved our health as well as economic activities. It feels like a privilege to have water supply in our own homes; construction of the water tank is such a huge achievement for us!”

    It sure is a happy moment for the people of Shreeramnagar community; but having a water supply should not be a matter of privilege and so much of hard work – it should be available and accessible to all; irrespective of their location and economic background. But of course, it is not so. Hence, when we talk about these simple basic technologies, it never is as simple as it sounds. A simple thing as a water supply can change people’s lives in too many ways. It saves time for the women who can invest it in income generating activities or in taking proper care of their children. It helps to stay cleaner and healthier. It helps to make human life dignified. It helps to fill the gap of technology injustice and make this world a bit more just place.

    So a water tank is not JUST a water tank but a step ahead towards a JUST world.


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  • Mobiles for Development: Virtual Reality, or Reality?

    Jonny Casey

    March 10th, 2015

    Women in Bolivia use feature phones to access market information

    Mobile phones, smartphone apps, mobile internet connectivity and mobile payments are frequently touted as silver bullets in the fight against poverty. Through a combination of frugal innovation and disruptive business models, mobile phones have become increasingly affordable and accessible to an ever-widening customer base. They are often considered ubiquitous among even very poor communities by designers and development practitioners, with statistics suggesting access to mobile phones across developing countries to be at 51%. (more…)

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  • Bill & Melinda open the Gates to data

    Jonny Casey

    January 7th, 2015

    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched a new Open Access policy for all material published from work it has funded, as of January 2015. This is a huge step by one of the largest development funders in the world and it could pave the way for others to follow suit. (more…)

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  • The Injustice of Research and Development

    Jonny Casey

    November 5th, 2014

    There are many great challenges facing the world in the coming years, from climate change to feeding and housing a rapidly growing population. Yet the direction of the research, innovation and development efforts globally are acutely failing to meet the needs of billions of poor and disadvantaged people. Even worse is that even the research which is specifically targeted towards addressing these global challenges is based on a flawed system of ‘technology transfer’, rather than locally developed appropriate solutions. (more…)

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  • Technology Justice Global Dialogue @ Small Is…

    Jonny Casey

    October 7th, 2014

    Open source approaches to research, development and design are becoming increasingly popular, whether it is crowd-sourcing designs for rainwater storage systems or creating bespoke software for the Raspberry Pi. These more open approaches to technological innovation could help create more equitable Technology Justice for the poorest and most marginalised societies worldwide, working to meet the needs of these communities. (more…)

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  • Energy for the poorest – going beyond the reach of markets.

    Simon Trace

    July 24th, 2014

    I was lucky enough to be part of a panel discussion today marking the European launch of the UN Decade for Sustainable Energy for All. The event was hosted by the Scottish Government in Glasgow as a cultural side event to the Commonwealth Games.

    Scotland is an interesting place to host such a discussion. It’s a country with some fairly remote, small and difficult to serve communities in the highlands and islands, for whom a connection to the national grid would be prohibitively expensive – mirroring some of the problems faced by rural communities in the developing world.

    One such example is the Isle of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, which only got 24 hour electricity in 2008. You can read more about this on their great website: islands going green but, in short, universal access to energy on Eigg was achieved through the efforts of the Eigg Heritage Trust via a community-owned company Eigg Electric. Their scheme is a hybrid one in that it delivers power via a mini grid attached to 3 renewable sources (hydro power, wind and solar) plus a diesel back-up generator. It was financed from a mixture of sources including the European Regional Development Fund, the Big Lottery, HIE Lochaber, the Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company, the Scottish Households Renewables Initiative, the Energy Saving Trust, the Highland Council, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust and the residents of the Isle of Eigg themselves.

    Technicians George and Lisungu working on the MEGA project in Malawi

    At 184kw of total renewable generating capacity, 11 km of grid, and a few hundred consumers the Eigg system is not dissimilar to the sort of mini grid projects Practical Action would work on in places like Malawi. What’s particularly interesting is that it is owned and operated by a community organisation and that its capital costs were financed (judging from the list above) at least in part from grant funds.

    Why is that interesting? Because at the moment there is a largely unchallenged assumption in many circles that the additional energy infrastructure needed to ensure universal access by 2030 will be funded through the actions of markets responding to unmet demand. All we need to do, the narrative goes, is get regulation right, remove market barriers, perhaps do a bit of capacity building and then stand back!

    That assumption does hold true to an extent, in certain circumstances – witness the progress made in Bangladesh with over 4 million solar home systems installed since 2004. But even in this great success story, if you dig a little deeper, you find the assumption holds true only for a certain segment of the ‘market’. As a recent World Bank study shows, people who install solar home systems in Bangladesh have, on average, twice the landholding and three times the non-land assets of those who do not. In other words the poorest and most marginalised are still being left behind (not surprising when a solar home system costs around $450).

    In terms of up front capital costs, the gap between what people can afford and what systems actually cost gets much bigger when you move from solar lamps or solar home systems to mini grids with the capacity to power more than just a few lamps. Which was why, I guess, the people of the Isle of Eigg’s energy needs were not resolved by a market responding to unmet need, but through the actions of their community organisation and the availability of grant financing.

    The Isle of Eigg is not a unique example in the ‘developed’ world of how remote rural communities have eventually got access to electricity. In the US difficult to reach rural communities were connected to electricity in the 1930s and 1940s through the actions of farmers’ cooperatives and subsidised funding from the government. Indeed 11% of all electricity sold in the US today is still provided by those cooperatives, helping to connect the 16 million rural citizens living in places where it remains too difficult for commercial utilities to generate sufficient return to invest (see the NRECA website for further details).

    We need to remember this experience when we make assumptions about how the goal of achieving universal energy access will be financed. Markets, the private sector and private finance will make a huge contribution to this process. But for the poorest and most difficult to reach, history in the ‘developed’ world shows that markets alone will not bridge the affordability gap.

    In her contribution to the discussion at the launch of the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All today Lynne Featherstone, the UK Under-Secretary of State for International Development, emphasised a principle of ‘leaving no one behind’ as we pursue development. My main point in the same discussion was that, if we are to achieve that with respect to energy, if we are truly to ensure energy for all, then we cannot just leave everything to the market. There will still be an important role for civil society organisations and public finance.

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  • The beginning of the end for oil?

    Simon Trace

    July 14th, 2014

    Jeremy Leggett, ‘social entrepreneur’ and founder of SolarAid and SunnyMoney, alerted me to a recent article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper here in the UK. The full article can be see here but, in short, the piece suggests that the oil industry is the new great ‘sub prime’ investment of the current economic cycle, replacing the US housing market which, you will remember, triggered a global recession in 2008. Investment is pouring into exploration in oil shales and deep fields in the Arctic and elsewhere, but these investments are not yet returning any cash and, indeed, require higher oil prices to deliver a real profit.


    Solar powered water pump in Kenya

    Whilst gambling on higher oil prices might have seemed a fairly safe bet a few years ago, there are now two potentially significant threats to making money out of oil. Firstly, if a global deal is eventually done to maintain atmospheric carbon levels at 450 ppm then, according to the International Energy Agency, two thirds of the oil reserves that oil companies currently have on their books will have to stay in the ground, unburnt, as ‘stranded’ (i.e. unusable) assets. This means the book value of the oil industry is vastly overstated and we can expect to see a mass withdrawal of funds, or a demand for profits to be paid out as dividends rather than re-invested in more drilling, as this eventually becomes clear to the big institutional investors.

    Secondly, the article notes that “staggering gains in solar power – and soon battery storage as well – threatens to undercut the oil industry with lightning speed”. The author (the Daily Telegraph’s International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard) goes on to note that photovoltaic energy already competes with fossil fuels in much of Asia without subsidy and that “once the crossover point is reached……it must surely turn into a stampede”, predicting that the energy landscape “will already look radically different in the early 2020’s”.

    For this sort of article to be penned by the business editor of the Telegraph, a newspaper associated with the British establishment and business, is, as Jeremy remarks, truly momentous. The world’s current addiction to a fossil fuel based economy represents a massive inter-generational technology injustice – with the choice to use carbon emitting technologies by this generation having potentially profound negative consequences for future ones.

    One can only hope that the Telegraph’s analysis is correct in this instance and that we are, indeed, seeing the beginning of the end of the age of oil.

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  • What technologies are essential? Well, that all depends on the person.

    Nestled in the shadows of the Alps, I joined 400 people at EPFL in Lausanne last week to talk technology justice. For many it was the first time they’d heard their work framed as a justice issue.  But this lively mix of academics, development workers and technologists from 70-odd countries had something in common: their vision for all people to be able benefit from essential technology; for that technology to be more environmentally sustainable; and to overcome the injustice faced by billions of people who go without food, shelter or water each day, despite humanity having the technological ability to provide it.

    Unserved by Nairobis water supply. slum dwellers connected illegally through so-called spagetti connections

    Unserved by Nairobis water supply. slum dwellers connected illegally through so-called spagetti connections

    A compelling address from the World Health Organisation drove home that in medicine there is plenty of available technology, as well as big business interest and a huge research and development effort. But even then, very little technological effort is aimed at benefiting the vast numbers of people in the developing world who don’t already access even basic medical technologies, and yet carry the world’s burden of disease and medical risk. Still today, 800 mothers die each day in childbirth: many of whom could be saved by the having access to simple, existing medical devices. Adriana Velasquez Berumen reminded us of a pressing need for new innovation of devices that are appropriate for use in remote, harsh environments or where there may be minimal services such as electricity and water.

    I presented Practical Action’s work in urban areas of Bangladesh, Nepal and Kenya as part of a discusson on essential technologies for the mega-cities of the future.

    this water seller now has a formal agreement with water company and can deliver clean water, legally in a way slum dwellers want it

    this water seller now has a formal agreement with water company and can deliver clean water, legally in a way slum dwellers want it

    The conclusions: the people are more important than the specific technologies. Involving them in decision-making and planning is crucial to creating cities where all citizens can enjoy all essential basic services – waste collection, water connection and toilets. The technology itself is secondary.

    This perspective is one that I hope will be shared by the LBNL Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies (LIGTT). Recognising that R&D into technologies that serve the needs of the poor just is not happening at the necessary scale, they’ve compiled a list of critical problems and promising interventions for priority development and deployment. I’ll be keeping an eye out for publication of their 50 breakthroughs for sustainable development in the next few months. What would be top of your list?

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