Monday, May 17, 2010

Shredded banana

What developing countries need is simple solutions to local problems. What the developed world wants to do is to sell them complex, state-of-the-art and very expensive solutions. Example: a jetty in western Libya with a pipe running along it, valves etc at intervals. The pipe was for transferring ethylene from cargo ships to the plant where it was needed. The jetty was ideal for local fishermen. Problem: risk to life and limb. Solution suggested by the German consortium who were building the plant: an electronic security system costing tens of thousands of dollars. My colleague Arthur's solution: put up notices in Arabic saying: IF YOU TOUCH THIS, YOU WILL DIE! Cost: a few pence.
I heard a poignant example on BBC World Service recently. It's a delicate subject, so please bear with me. In many of the poorer African communities, girls stay away from school when they are menstruating, because they cannot afford sanitary pads (supplied, of course, by countries like ours). The result is that their education suffers. Now an enterprising local group called SHE has established a cottage industry in Rwanda manufacturing sanitary pads from shredded banana fibre, an abundant and cheap local material.
But we shouldn't blame only the developed countries,such as in the German example above. The local elite, expensively educated in Europe and North America, WANT the hi-tech state-of-the-art equipment: it's good for their image.
Well, there you go. Early Monday morning grump, provoked by bad news from BAA. I feel better already, though goodness knows when I will see my NZ family now that the authorities have shut down Heathrow. The plane from Singapore is in the air, but who knows where or when it will land? Next time, I think my Kiwi brood should choose a low-tech solution, like camels or roller skates.

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