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: Introduction
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Introduction

By David Werner, 1994

The landscape of the so-called Third World is littered with the skeletons of "appropriate technology" projects which, with the test of time, bit the dust.

Imposing Ideas
Too often, development designers and planners from the North have imposed on the South their ideas of what is "appropriate" for disadvantaged peoples. But, as a rule, they have failed to get to know the people, to involve intended users in the innovative process, or to build realistically on local traditions, resources, and know-how.

Above all, technocrats and designers from the North (and many from the South who have been schooled in the ways of the North) often fail to adequately consider the social and political implications of technological "fixes" they introduce. Time and again they try to solve the needs of the poor by introducing technologies which - because of their cost, difficulty in repairs, or dependency on outside resources - are better utilized by those in relatively more privileged positions. So the technology itself contributes to widening the gap between rich and poor, or it becomes another tool of exploitation. As Reinder van Tijen points out so clearly in this book, in terms of basic human needs, a technology is appropriate only when it helps to empower the poorest or most disadvantaged people.

The Importance of Water
Water is essential to life. It is the key to sufficient food supply, cleanliness, health, and survival. In part because of the environmentally inappropriate technologies introduced on a massive scale -- notably giant agribusiness and inefficient energy-intensive large industry -- the world's deserts are growing, its water tables dropping, and its rivers, lakes and oceans becoming dangerously contaminated. As safe water for drinking and household use becomes more scarce, the half of the world's people without a regular water supply in their homes have to walk farther, pay more, and often try to survive with less.

Involving Women
As Reinder van Tijen makes clear, usually the job of fetching water rests on the shoulder -- or, more often, the heads -- of the women. Yet most water technology introduced by funding or development agencies depends on the skills, resources, and willingness of the men for its installation and maintenance. For a technology to be fully appropriate and sustainable, control over it must be in the hands of the primary user: in this case, women.

Through many years of helping villagers - and especially village women - develop innovative ways to meet their basic needs, Reinder has found that in many communities the most workable and maintainable method to supply water is through low cost, community-constructed rope-pumps.

The Rope-Pump
This technology is based on the age-old chain link pump but uses certain "modern" but almost universally available components such as nylon rope, PVC (plastic) pipe, and old car tyres.

In spite of opposition from much of the "development establishment" to this "home-made" approach to pumping water, once the pumps have been introduced in villages with inadequate water supply, people themselves have often replicated and further adapted the pumps to best meet their needs and resources. With very limited funding and promotion, today thousands of these rope-pumps are being independently built and maintained - often in areas where heavily funded water projects based on imported or factory-built metal hand-pumps had achieved very limited success.

Counterproductive Technology
There are countless stories about the failures and even counterproductiveness of attempts to provide reliable, equitable, and sustainable water supply to disadvantaged communities. At best, hand-pumps - often supplied by such agencies as UNICEF - are introduced as a community project, but soon break down and remain unused because spare parts are unavailable or the person in charge does not take the initiative to obtain them. At worst, the wealthy, more powerful members of the community take over control of the water project, charge exploitative user fees for public pumps, and even turn off the public faucets when the poor are unable to pay. Thus, well-intended water systems dependent on outside resources have repeatedly been used by the strong to exploit the weak and expropriate first their water rights and finally their land.

Evaluating the Approriateness of Technology
Unfortunately, the ineffectiveness or counterproductiveness of technologies designed to benefit "the poorest of the poor" are not the exception, but the rule. Too often - as happens so often with hand-pumps and water systems - the more advantaged members of the community use the new technology in ways that increase their relative wealth, power, and control. In evaluating the ultimate appropriateness of any technology, therefore, we need to consider how it affects self-determination and the distribution power - within the family, within the community, within the nation, and internationally.

Water-pumps are a good example. In spite of extensive documentation concerning the many problems related to supplying manufactured metal hand-pumps to water-hungry Third World communities, the health and development establishment - both government and non-government - has been stubbornly resistant to the exploration of process - rather than product - oriented alternatives.


: Introduction
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | Next >