A Dry Future 2: Firewood
To members of the developed world, fire is invisible. We have streamlined our usage to carefully burned oil, gas, or coal, and done it in furnaces, burners, and power plants far from our daily lives. Fire for us barely exists, except when we bring it out for show at ski lodges, and in little glass cages at restaurants.
For the developing world, fire supplies three essential parts of life: heat for housing, heat for cooking, and heat for making tools like metals and pottery. And this is where the problem begins: Fire means fuel. Fuel means wood. Wood means forests. And, inevitably, forests get chopped down faster than they can re-grow. But how does that relate to the water? It's all about the silt.
Have you ever walked past a construction site, and seen all the dirt and runoff in the street? Having an exposed site of bare dirt doesn't do anything to keep the dirt and dust from washing right down the drains. In the case of the forests, once you harvest all the trees for firewood, there aren't any leaves to cushion the rain, or roots to hold the soil back. And the dirt washes downhill and becomes silt in the rivers. More silt leads to higher concentrations of bacteria, in the water, higher concentration of dissolved minerals like arsenic and heavy metals.
So, in order to combat this facet of the water problem, we need to help cut wood use. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this.
Design Alternative Cooking Methods
Lots of projects are working to develop solar methods for cooking in developing countries. The main things to consider when thinking about these are ease of building using local materials, and cost of production in an undeveloped country. A new design which is cone-shaped, rather than the complex parabolic cookers could make some serious impact.
Cheap Water Purifiers
You don't have to go crazy like Dean Kamen (but lets face it, the guy doesn't know how not to go all out). In fact, incredibly simple water purifiers are being developed, because so many countries have so little technology to start with. And when we say technology, we mean like the high-tech "Old Clothes" filter method to stop the spread of Cholera. Or iron filings and sand to filter arsenic in Bangladesh. If the right kind of super-inexpensive filtration system can be devised, the effect would be huge in Bangladesh alone.
Obviously, the problem is huge, and it won't be helped by designers ignoring the undeveloped world because of the lack of a profit motive. Designers need to balance being successful on the balance sheets with being successful on the "karma sheets". There is an enormous potential to help people with this problem, and that's a huge part of design success.
Next we'll wrap up the series by bringing the problem back home - exploring how designers can help the industrialized world help cut our own water usage.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team