The UNICEF 2015 State of the World’s Children Report celebrates the new forms of appropriate technology that are being tried and tested in parts of world where children are most at risk from poverty and inequality
Marking twenty five years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the UNICEF 2015 State of the World’s Children Report celebrates the new forms of appropriate technology that are being tried and tested in parts of world where children are most at risk from poverty and inequality.
What is appropriate technology?
Who are these new inventors and what have they designed?
Why are these ideas being championed by UNICEF?
Appropriate technology is a collective term for new inventions and schemes that focus deeply on the needs of the people using them. The technology tends to encompass ideas that are small in scale, environmentally sustainable and people-centred; sometimes being both designed and maintained directly by the people who use them. Appropriate technology moves away from the idea of transferring developed world solutions to developing countries and assuming they will work as well there as in the country of origin. Instead this technology is highly place specific and ‘appropriate’ for the exact circumstances in which it will be used.
In connection with UNICEF’s remit of placing the child first in development opportunities, its 2015 State of the World’s Children Report highlights a number of cases where children living in challenging circumstances have themselves come up with effective appropriate technology solutions to some of the issues that hinder their lives.
One such solution came from sixteen year old Bisman Deu from southern India. Growing up on a rice farm meant that every year after the harvest, the rice waste, such as husks and straw, was burnt, filling the air with a thick smoke and causing breathing problems for herself, her family and the community in which she lived, as well as killing the many crop-friendly insects that lived in the agricultural habitat.
It struck Bisman that this waste fibre could be put to good use and in such a way that it could produce a secondary income for farmers like her father. Mixing the husks and straw with an organic resin meant that she was able to produce a strong water and fungi proof board which could be used as a sustainable and cheap house building material, with its associated positive effects on trying to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions.
Separating the rice from the husk in Kerala. (Source: Seema Krishnakumar)
The idea has enormous potential in India where forty seven percent of the population are employed in agriculture, with many of these people living in mud rendered houses that suffer during the rainy season. Indeed, with more than half of the world’s population eating rice everyday as their main staple foodstuff and with a tonnes of husk produced for every five tonnes of rice, UNICEF have recognised the potential to take this idea and make it both larger in scale and use it in other countries.
Four students in Nigeria have also come up with a viable solution to combat the frequent evening power cuts that were preventing them from studying in the evening. Most households in Nigeria rely on diesel powered generators to power their homes individually or as part of a collective. However rising fuel prices has meant that fuel is scarce and cut-outs are a frequent occurrence. With equal concern over the levels of toxic gases such as carbon monoxide which can be found in people’s homes as a result of the generators, Abiola Akindele, Eniola Bello, Adebola Duro-Aina and Toyin Faleke began to think about alternative fuel bases. Recognising that it was the carbon in the fuel that was the problem, the students started to experiment with using hydrogen based liquids, (such as water) as a fuel, but found pure water when electrolysed produced too little hydrogen to be of use. So they turned to a source that had a greater concentration of hydrogen – their urine. With the potential to produce twice as much hydrogen gas as water, urea, which does not cost anything, was electrolysed using an old car battery and produced enough energy to run a light for evening homework.
Three of the students with their urine powered generator. (Source: Erik Hersman)
Other ideas included luminescent markers to direct emergency services through informal settlements in South Africa, cheap braille printers to allow partially sighted and blind children greater access to school, light and collapsible trolleys to aid the carriage of water and/or firewood, a device that uses cactus mucilage (sap) to purify water in much the same way as the plant itself does in the desert and a powerless ‘fridge’ that uses the condensation process to cool an internalised container.
UNICEF has long sought viable solutions to problems from the people themselves who are affected by them. However, the cases of innovation highlighted in the 2015 State of the World’s Children Report are celebrated because they come directly from the people who are most vulnerable to inequality and hindered development and it is important that many of the ideas they draw attention to can be adapted to other contexts. The recognition of children as people with rights and agency is central to the aims of UNICEF and shows that top-down development policies are being increasingly sidestepped by those on the front line of poverty.
Innovations for sustainability and development that are designed and maintained by the people whom they serve made specifically for the locality in which they are used.
Development that aims to increase standards of living without destroying the environment while safeguarding natural resources for future generations.
Thinking of the three themes of economic, social and environmental, students should choose one of either the rice husk ‘green wood’ or the urine power generators schemes and suggest how each is thought to be sustainable according to each of those themes.
Compiling a list of all the features that mean that something is appropriate technology, students can try to come up with a more sustainable and appropriate method by which girls in a Tanzanian rural village can collect water. These ideas can be ‘pitched’ to the class and students can vote on their favourite.
Students can research one form of ‘inappropriate technology’ and create a five point list of why it failed or was deemed inappropriate in practice in a particular place.
The Guardian discusses one of the ideas
UNICEF: The State of the World’s Children 2015
Erik Hersman discusses Digital technology in Africa
Millennium Development Goals 1-4 and 5-8
Nicholas Negroponte discusses One Laptop per Child
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