Simple steps improve lives
A MAJOR goal of poverty alleviation is to improve people's quality of life, and one approach is to develop technology which increases productivity.
But experience shows that adopting modern technology solely for the sake of rapid growth - regardless of whether a technology is suitable for local application or is compatible with the environment - negatively impacts on development.
Therefore, designing 'appropriate technology' has become a subject that Oxfam and other development workers often consider.
'Appropriate Technology' takes into consideration its impact on social groups (especially the impact on women), the environment, indigenous cultures and production efficiency. This technology should also pay attention to fitting in with local human resources and technology.
During my recent trip to Bangladesh, I saw two meaningful examples of appropriate technology promoted by local partner organisations.
Environment-friendly Oven: Most of the Bangladesh villages traditionally used a triangular clay oven for cooking. As this kind of oven has no opening in the back for ventilation, smoke from burning wood is mostly released from the front opening to be inhaled by the user, whose health is affected.
Meanwhile, as heat escapes from all sides, cooking takes a long time and wastes a lot of fuel.
An Oxfam-supported grassroots group, 'Come to Work', in Dinajpur is currently promoting an environment-friendly oven, which is also made of clay, but with many improved features.
The cylindrical design has a front opening for the wood supply and a small round hole in the back for ventilation. Smoke from cooking only emerges from the back hole, so smoke is significantly reduced.
Moreover, the new oven helps contain heat and reduce cooking time. Villagers relay that for cooking the same amount of food, the design may save half the fuel and one third of their time.
Treadle Pump: In April, I went to Panchgarh in the northwestern part of Bangladesh. At that time, the region was confronted with a drought. Rivers had dried up, cracks were appearing in the soil, and wherever we went, people were telling us their difficulties.
'We have lost our harvests for three consecutive seasons. If Allah does not show mercy, we are bound to face famine this year,' a villager said.
Throughout the country, people are using every possible means to end this predicament: some religious people pray for rain; others try traditional methods.
In the past few years, an Oxfam-supported body, Social Progress Services, has strongly promoted an indigenous invention: a treadle pump.
For application, the user only has to place both feet on the bamboo paddles and continue to step on them. Underground water will then be sucked by the pistons to ground level for irrigation.
Water pumps currently used for irrigating fields are too expensive for the ordinary people - costs amount to about HK$500 to $1,000. The treadle pump costs only $120 to $160! To help farmers who do not have land to install water pumps, Social Progress Services provides them with low-interest loans.
In the past eight months, 680 farmer households have enjoyed the benefits. They have survived the dry seasons.
It is clear that timely and appropriate technology not only increases production but also enables resources to be fully utilised.
Ho Tak-yin is Oxfam Programme Officer, South Asia Oxfam Hong Kong is an independent development and relief agency which works with the poor regardless of race, sex, religion or politics in their struggle against poverty.