• Eyes Open Wide

    Poverty

    I thought I would include you on the week I had, where I am and my newest discoveries..

    Indeed, for the past 2 months I filled a sketchbook with lists and facts, diagrams and articles and my bibliography grew and grew. However, I didn't really have time to take it all in. The information was so overwhelming and fascinating that I was thirsty for more and more.

    This week was different. I think it was just a matter of time.

    I investigated different regions in the world, made maps of their climate and rainfall, GDP and water situations. I learned about the Kalahari Basin, also known as the 'Kalahari Depression', a large lowland area of 2.5 Million Km squared in the south of Africa that includes countries like Zambia, Botswana, Namibia & Zimbabwe. I read reports by the UN-Water agency, the Kyoto Water Declaration, The 3rd World Water Development Report and more.

    I started reading about Bangladesh, Population of 150 million where 45% is below the poverty line, 74% access to water (a vague word..) 43% literacy. I learned that in the 1970s 4 million wells were built in Bangladesh, which improved the water situation. However, in 1993 high arsenic concentrations were discovered in the ground water (which lead to skin disorders and cancer). The wells were closed (labelled 'red') and the local community returned to the ponds and ditches, which led to a greater outbreak of water related diseases and increased child mortality (children are much more prone to be effected by unclean water). The size of the population in Bangladesh continued to grow at an alarming rate, mostly in urban settings. 'Dhaka Slum' is the most densely populated area in the country, and therefore has the worst health.

    I then had a meeting with Charity:Water a NFP that 'brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations'- this was exactly what needed!! I had a great conversation with Becky Straw, where she exposed me to some issues I did not think about before. It made much more sense to me to listen to the issues organizations such as this one are facing rather than me shooting into space..

    Firstly, she made me aware of the fact that sanitation was a much bigger issue that clean water (1/6 with no water, 2/3 with no sanitation) This means that HALF the people in the world DO have water but not proper sanitation. what is, therefore the point of the water if it is not maintained clean? water out of the ground is generally rather clean, it is when people throw their garbage and dispose of their feces next to it that gets it contaminated. We talked about people who actually have ways of purifying water in their homes however use the same bucket for the dirty and clean water. She opened my eyes to situations in schools, where kids dont have hand-washing stations. Hand-washing, I found from reports, is predicted as the number one way to stop diarrheal deaths which claim 1 million lives a year. Some households get water from a well or a river in a bucket, and store it on the ground for days, where flies, bugs and animals have access to it. Flies who feed off the feces of these same people then drink their water.

    There seem to be some designs for washing hands at home, not in schools, that accommodate hundreds of kids. (50% of schools in the world dont have proper sanitation. this is the number one reason girls dont go to schools.) And we are talking about children here- Kids get dirty, they play outdoors, and they are much more likely to get sick. As well as that, If you educate a small child to wash their hands, they will do it for the rest of their lives.

    One of the things that stroke me the most- it is not an issue of water! Liberia, one of the countries that is suffering the most from unclean-water related diseases is the country with the most rainfall!

    it seems to be the issue people dont want to talk about; it is less quantifiable. People wan to invest in things they can see 'not a teaching session' but also much more LONG TERM and necessary.

    I dont see a point in creating more water if the water that is already there is not being used to improve the situation. i would therefore like to focus on people who have water- but no sanitation.

    This morning I read the 'UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water' here are a few interesting details that attracted my attention:

    -"Financing for sanitation is low compared to drinking-water" (averages 50% less) -The countries covered in the report indicated to 26% sanitation covered in schools -In terms of meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), "progress is especially lagging behind in sub-saharan Africa and Southern Asia" -They stressed the importance of sanitation in schools (again, 26%) where as in hospitals there is a 75% average sanitation coverage. The country with the lowest figures here (of the 7 indicated) was Vietnam (12% coverage in schools) -Regional flooding and earthquakes caused damage to sanitation infrastructures -Out of the 7 countries included in the report, Vietnam, where there is the least coverage of sanitation in schools, is also the country with the highest primary school attendance rate (93.5%) -Madagascar is by far (!) the country with the lowest proportion of population with sewerage 0.02% compared to Vietnam 60% or uganda with 7% -Vietnam's government spends the lowest percentage of GDP on drinking water 0.6% compared to Madagascar 1.81% and Uganda 2.6% -Vietnam also has the lowest number of low income groups as a percentage of total population - 18 compared with 85 in Madagascar and 35 in uganda.

    This week was intense. In a good way. I learned a lot, I had time to take in some of the information and get a better understanding of what the real issues are. I am very happy to be at this point in my discoveries and excited about going forward!

  • Lee, I read this long post with great interest. Your realization that the answer has to involve education is crucial. it sounds like the key is to make it clear to the end users how to protect themselves by taking simple steps to improve sanitation using your product. It would be unfortunate if your research revealed that the most effective answer is simply distributing a leaflet that explains this, because we are product designers and we have to make products (although maybe this attitude is what drives mindless consumption in the US...).

    So, what does it all mean from the point of view of choosing a topic for your thesis project? I am not at all worried that you will fail to come up with something great, and I encourage you to continue reading and learning; but I also think you should be considering lots of different product ideas now, doing lots of design sketches, and generally jumping in. You don't have to wait until you have thoroughly mastered the subject. It sounds like you are ready to start imagining what a product that meets your design criteria, and that is informed by your growing awareness of the technical and cultural considerations would look like. steven

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