This is a guest post by Jeremy Fordham. Jeremy is an engineer and advocate of process optimization and renewable energy.
The developing world occupies an often- misunderstood and scary place in the grand scheme of global progress. It harbours connotations of rampant disease, economic stagnation, even death. If we strip this term of its comparative fabric and Western bias, however, we can see that “developing countries” aren’t that different from developed ones. For instance, in a developing country people have the same basic human needs as in a developed country, needs like access to clean water and a consistent supply of food. Despite the combined efforts of many organizations to promote education and technological development in these underrepresented places, progress has been slow. Millions of children still die every year from diarrhea induced by contaminated drinking water. To anyone who has ever had filtered tap water from their kitchen sink, this is—and should be—quite an absurd statistic.
Open source sustainability is a philosophy that relies on promoting organic growth in regions with insufficient resources. The idea here is that if a community is given a system that affordably increases its standard of living, support for that system will grow internally and ultimately spark widespread proliferation.. Many engineers across the world have taken this concept and given it new life, especially in the realm of water clarification. And while it isn’t mass scale, every major ideology germinates from proud and successful examples.
The Abundant Water project planted its roots back in 2007, when an Australian engineer named Sunny Forsyth realized the water clarity crisis while touring Laos. He eventually came up with the brilliant idea of working with local potters to create low-cost clay pot filters that eliminate up to 95 percent of pathogenic microorganisms from clean drinking water. By teaching local potters in Laos how to create these filters, the Abundant Water project simultaneously improves the region’s quality of life while also giving that region the ability to sustain the concept.
AguaClara blossomed from a professor’s passion for the Global South into a crusade that has swept through the region. This multi-disciplinary team at Cornell University designs affordable water treatment plants that rely only on gravity to produce clean water. One of the most interesting components of this program is their scalable AguaCalara Design Tool, which they have rigorously developed over the course of many years.
This design tool allows engineers to automatically generate AutoCAD designs of a water treatment plant given a set of input parameters like plant size and output flow rate. The tool has been constructed to essentially minimize the cost of these designs, promoting cost crunches wherever possible. In addition to fundraising and kick starting this global campaign by building more than three of these plants in Honduras, AugaClara also trains engineers in other countries in how to build and maintain these plants. The driving hope is that the open-source design tool will be picked up and developed by other engineers who are interested in the same end goals.
These projects are shining examples of what it means to take a hands-on approach to solving a global problem. Instead of volleying in politics and pointing fingers, these programs—and many, many others like them across the world—are finding unique and innovative ways bolster organic development in countries where people die unnecessarily every day.
Open source technology like this isn’t just limited to water clarification. Computer technology and software development initiatives continue to permeate the globe, making their own mark by promoting curiosity and accessibility to information. Ultimately, it will be work like this that equalizes not just standards of living, but an ability to reach those standards as well.
Jeremy is an engineer and advocate of process optimization and renewable energy.
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