Technology’s role as the key to creating a sustainable society

2023 / 7 / 7 | Author: enw_editor

While facilities, equipment and other forms of infrastructural “hardware” are important, so is software that can properly operate and maintain it. This way of thinking is crucial to achieving sustainability in the context of community development and aid — and it becomes even more critical on the ground when it comes to international development.

During visits throughout Asia, I have often come across traces of aid-backed projects that are no longer in use. One organization that has set out to improve this situation is Sunda Technology Global, a startup dedicated to solving water problems in Africa. I learned about the company from an individual involved in a Panasonic workshop about tackling issues faced by emerging nations. The company’s representative is also a former Panasonic employee.

Fair fee structure is key

In Uganda, half of people in rural areas rely on boreholes with hand pumps to source the water they need for daily life. Of the over 60,000 boreholes across the country, fewer than 20% are properly managed, and about 40% of rural residents can’t access safe water.

Boreholes break down and can take many months to fix due to a lack of funding reserves to cover operation and maintenance costs. Sunda Technology Global honed in on this issue and developed a solution called SUNDA, a prepaid fee system designed for boreholes with hand pumps.

The SUNDA unit, which can be installed at existing boreholes, consists of a standalone solar energy system, a smart meter and an online payment platform. To use the borehole, residents insert a pre-charged tag into the pump, and a fee is deducted from their balance based on the amount of water drawn.

With this pay-as-you-go system, fees are automatically collected and set aside. This resolves persisting issues like an inequitable flat monthly fee structure and the onerous burden of collecting cash — along with the risk of someone taking off with all of the money. The system has proved to be effective in field tests to date, and the company is currently targeting mass production via crowdfunding (in Japanese) in 2023.

How technology should work for a sustainable society

Over ten years ago during a visit to a Pacific Island nation, I saw numerous chickens packed in a small cage out in the middle of nature. That sight has stayed with me, and I am still not convinced that this farming technology was appropriate for that location. There is a concept of adapting technology to a site’s conditions called appropriate technology. While I am not personally an expert in this field, it seems safe to say that the SUNDA system would fall into this category, judging by the definition from the Appropriate Technology Forum Japan (in Japanese).

They define it as technology that is suited to the social, economic and cultural conditions of the locality where it is to be applied (primarily in developing countries); is easy for many people to engage with; and contributes to environmental conservation and restoration.

In order to realize a more sustainable society, we will need to rely on the latest advances in technology. However, I don’t believe that the future framework we are aiming for is merely more of the same modern scientific technology that favors efficiency, scale and growth. Consider regenerative agriculture, which has recently been generating interest in the context of biodiversity. If we apply the added lens of appropriate technology to it, we will be able to conceive of implications and possibilities from an even broader perspective.

With the topic of generative AI blowing up as much as it has, now is the time to think about how technology should be used to foster a sustainable society.

Takeshi Nozawa (author), translation by Melody Poland

(Thumbnail photo by Alessandro Bianchi from Unsplash)