Last night, I had the opportunity to hear a lecture from Moses Musaazi at the Science Environments in Africa Conference here at the University of Michigan. Dr. Musaazi is a professor of electrical engineering at Makerere University in Kamplala, Uganda. Recognizing the need for the development of technologies appropriate for the poor in Africa, he has made two important contributions to the lives of people in Uganda, and surely to all of Sub-Saharan Africa. He argues that technological development aimed at users in Africa must recognize the special conditions that exist there which will inhibit the spread of technologies that may be applicable to the developed world. Technologies must be take into account the challenging environment of Sub-Saharan Africa (dust, rats and heavy rain), widespread illiteracy and difficult lifestyles and, most importantly, new technologies must be cheap to be able to reach the multitudes of impoverished persons throughout the sub-continent.
Dr. Musaazi has introduced two technologies which have proven successful thus far. The first is an interlocking brick (Interlocking Stabilized Soil Bricks: ISSB) which does not require that the bricks be fired. Environmental degradation due to the large amount of wood required to fire bricks is wide spread throughout SSA. Dr. Musaazi’s bricks can be made out of any soil with a small machine that can be used on-site.
In addition, the bricks air-dry and can be used a mere four hours after being made so that construction can commence immediately. He indicates that a house of typical size for that of a family in SSA can be built and livable in less than two weeks, and does not require the cutting of a single tree.
Not only is the brick good for building households, but it is also good for building water storage containers. Water can be collected off the roof of the household and stored, thereby relieving households members of the burden of having to walk several kilometers to fetch water.
In the developed world, we take the wide spread availability of water completely for granted. I believe that many people on this end of the globe cannot even imagine the immense benefits of having water available at all times in a household. Women are more often that not tasked with obtaining water, which has serious implications for the educational achievement of both adults and children and has serious effects of society as a whole. Educated women are the key to good health in populations and an indicator of the level of progress a society makes in respecting human rights and welfare.
In SSA, girls have the added problem of running the risk of being raped on the way to fetch water. Having a water source near the household minimizes this risk and protects her physical and psychological health and well-being.
The second technology he presented was the Makapad, a sanitary pad for women. The lack of sanitary pads is a serious problem for women in SSA, especially for girls. Girls cannot go to school during their menstrual period, interrupting their studies on a monthly basis in addition to creating a sense of isolation and marginalization during menstruation.
The Makapad is made from papyrus, which grows wild all over Uganda and the Sudan. Papyrus is more absorbent than cotton and requires little processing to make it usable for sanitary pads. 10% of the Makapad comes from recycled office paper waste but the most important aspect of the Makapad is that it can be made completely by hand.
Dr. Musaazi has established a factory near Kampala and employs women from a nearby refugee camp. While one could argue that mechanization would create make production more efficient and cheap, Dr. Musaazi argues that, in spite of inefficiency, employing a large number of people is important to contributing to the living situation of refugee women in Uganda.
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