One of the big areas that has emerged as a theme in my ever-vigilant watch of technology is the development of new concepts and technologies to supply water and other resources to third-world communities. Allow me to point you to a few examples:
- Martin Fisher wins the Lemelson-MIT award for sustainability for the SuperMoneyMaker Pump. Fisher has devised a $100 water pump that can pull water from a 30-foot well to irrigate up to 2 acres of land. (He's also developed a $35 tool called the "Hip Pump" that uses a farmer's body weight to operate it.)
- The PlayPump System is an utterly brilliant concept that links a well pump and cistern to a kids' merry-go-round toy, so that as they play on the merry-go-round they are actually supplying water for their community from the well (which is stored in the cistern). The whole system costs $14,000, and can supply 2,500 people with water for 10 years. (PlayPumps International gets extra props for setting up a system where you can donate as little as $6 toward the installation of these-- and that $6 will supply one child with clean water for 10 years.)
- Dean Kamen has built the Vapor Compression Distiller, which is a chemical, membrane, and filter-free water purifier (meaning it doesn't require substantial maintenance and consumable goods to continue filtering). Kamen believes this could eradicate a huge amount of disease worldwide.
- The Hippo Water Roller is designed to alleviate the difficulty and physical stress required for a human body to retrieve and transport water from long distances. It allows 200 pounds of water to be reduced to an effective weight of only 22 pounds for easier transportation, even over difficult terrain.
- Daniel Sheridan has won three separate awards for developing a see-saw designed to provide enough electricity to power a classroom for several hours through 10 minutes of play.
All by themselves, each of these is a very good idea. It strikes me, though, that the missing piece for all of them is the infrastructure to distribute and install these.
Sure, the Peace Corps and similar secular groups are all over the place doing this kind of work. But why not missionaries? Why couldn't some of the many missions boards with teams of people in third-world countries send short-term teams that would bring and install these as a support and extension of the existing ministry?
One thing I DO know about missions is this: it is almost universally agreed that long-term sustainability of Gospel ministry depends on developing local, indigenous leaders to take over the ministry. That sort of sustainability, it seems to me, demands that stability of resources also be in place-- so water supply, irrigation, agriculture, medical care, and education must become immediate concerns for pastors and missionaries in a third-world context.
All of the above projects seem to offer affordable solutions for exactly that: stabilizing resources. It seems like a no-brainer to me. Am I missing something? What do you think?