Thursday, June 23, 2011

Appropriate Solutions

A few days ago I linked to an op-ed piece in The New York Times where the author lamented that the redevelopment efforts undertaken by the United States in Afghanistan is eschewing appropriate technology and regional building methods in favor of creating an industrialized economy based upon extraction of natural resources. While low-tech solutions could enrich the lives of rural Afghans, instead they are left with nothing but grudges as pipelines are built around them, and highways are constructed through tribal lands so that international corporations can plunder them. Clealry this will not turn out well.

It's not for lack of knowledge. Here is a great site about low-tech and appropriate technology solutions to farming: Tillers International. Just imagine if these techniques were taught to Afghan villagers. Some examples:

Fodder choppers
Grasses and crop residues being brought to dairy cows need to be chopped to improve palatability and intake. A chopper greatly reduces the time it takes to prepare these feeds compared to chopping with a machete. Tillers has developed two primary types of choppers, a cutting box with a hand-operated levered blade and a more complex rotary operated blade with an automatic feeder.

Martin ditcher
Used to build road beds or make run-off ditches, simple tools like the Martin ditcher can allow people to improve their local infrastructure.

Slip scraper
A slip scraper can be used to level building sites, dig pit silos or dig irrigation and run-off ditches.

Four ox evener
An evener improves the ability of multiple teams of oxen to work together. This allows the smaller, local oxen to do heavier work. The evener allows the driver to monitor how evenly the two teams are pulling, maxmizing their power.

Of course, these would have to be modified for local conditions - soil types, precipitation, draft animals (I'm assuming yak and water buffalo in Afghanistan). I'm guessing Halliburton, are not beating down the door of Tillers International, however.

As for local architecure, they would be do well to study the works of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy. Fathy, although trained in the Western tradition, began studying the traditional indiginous architecture of the Middle East - materials, techniques, etc., with an eye to using these to enhance the lives of those unable to afford Western architectural methods. I was reminded of this thanks to this wonderful post on No-Tech Magazine: Innovation & Tradition: The Complete Works of Hassan Fathy Online. Fathy's techniques and ideas, originally implemented amoung the poor in Egypt would go a long way toward inproving the lives of the rural poor in Afghanistan. I do not know much about Afghan architecture, but I do know they are an ancient land with a rich architecural tradition. Here's Fathy quoted the article:

"Sixty years of experience have shown me that industrialization and mechanization of the building trade have caused vast changes in building methods with varying applications in different parts of the world. Constant upheaval results when industrially developed societies weaken the craft-developed cultures through increased communications. As they interact, mutations create societal and ecological imbalance and economic inequities which are documented to be increasing in type and number. Profoundly affected is the mass of the population, which is pressured to consume industrially produced goods. The result is cultural, psychological, moral, and material havoc."

"Yet it is this population that has an intimate knowledge of how to live in harmony with the local environment. Thousands of years of accumulated expertise has led to the development of economic building methods using locally available materials, climatization using energy derived from the local natural environment, and an arrangement of living and working spaces in consonance with their social requirements. This has been accomplished within the context of an architecture that has reached a very high degree of artistic expression."
As Kris De Decker notes:

Fathy demonstrated how elements from vernacular Arab urban architecture, such as the malkaf (wind catch), shukshaykha (lantern dome) and mashrabiya (wooden lattice screen), could be combined with the mud-brick construction traditionally practiced in Nubia in Upper Egypt to form a distinctive, environmentally and socially conscious building style that linked the use of appropriate technologies with co-operative construction techniques and the guiding thread of tradition.

Sound like just what Afghanistan needs right now, doesn't it? Afghanistan could become the shining example of a low-tech agricultural-based society with a high standard of living for the age of Peak Oil. Too bad our leaders are more interested in plunder.

Her's a terrific blog post on architecure and appropriate technology.

Hedre's Wikipedia on windcatchers.

A windcatcher and qanat used for cooling.

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