Problems of the world always seem tremendously complicated, and their solutions tend to create whole new problems that are often twice as hard to solve. Every once in a while, however, you come across a solution that fixes more problems than you were even trying to address. A recent National Geographic article talks about an innovation that seems to have just these results.
We have talked about Uganda before on this blog, but rarely in an entirely hopeful tone. A group called Engineers Without Borders is working to change all that, however, and they’re off to a flying start.
Northeastern Uganda is one of the many places in the world that has almost no access to electricity. As a result, they spend a tremendous amount of time simply trying to survive in a harsh, and often conflict ridden area. That’s where Engineers Without Borders comes in, bringing with them a device called the Multifunction Energy Platform.
The whole purpose of the Multifunction Energy Platform is to help people in situations like this. The machine provides energy, obviously, and can ingeniously be outfitted with various appliances so that it can be used to process many different kinds of crops. One of the challenges facing the Ugandan people is that many of their marketable crops are very time-consuming to process, meaning that they cannot compete on anything like a global level, and have a great deal of trouble just making meager ends meet. The Multifunction Energy Platform has the power to change this. “For the cost of fueling the engine, it expedites work that would otherwise be done by hand and can significantly increase the value of rural farmers’ crops.”One woman from the village of Usuk, where one of these machines has been installed said that the “additional income…would dwarf what she is able to make selling sorghum. And it would mean no longer worrying about finding money to send her three children to school or working 12-hour days in the fields that surround her house.” The hope is that as the people are freed from some of the burden of survival they will have time for other things–like education. In the words of the article, they’re hoping to “decrease the workload for the community and help them use their time more effectively, so they can continue developing their community.” Strong communities and strong economies make the kind of conflict that constantly threatens these areas easier to bear, and hopefully less common.
And here’s where it gets even better: these machines can also be used to power buildings, charge things like cell-phones, and heat houses that would otherwise have to be heated with wood–thus stopping one of the major causes of deforestation in the area. See what I mean about solving problems you hadn’t even tackled yet?
To date at least four communities have received these machines, with many more being planned. Along with the machines, Engineers Without Borders is also teaming up to create cooperatives in the villages, and generally increase their stability and well-being In the future, they also hope to have the machines running on sustainable fuels such as vegetable oils.
“I have seen people look much more healthy than they did before. Some say [school] absenteeism for their girls has reduced tremendously, because they no longer have to be involved long hours preparing food.”~Edward Eleazar, Ugandan coordinator
Of course, no solution is completely without problems, and the project is fraught with difficulties like getting mechanics out to fix the machines when they break. But it is still a major step in the right direction–and it is to be hoped that the progress will continue and such difficulties be smoothed out int he near future.