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New York Times Examines Innovative Approaches To Tackling Infrastructure Needs In Developing Countries

The New York Times explores efforts across the U.S. to craft and implement affordable solutions to infrastructure problems around the world. It also looks at programs geared toward supporting the work of local entrepreneurs to build solutions to the problems on the ground. 

“Containers to Clinics is one of many innovative approaches to building or rebuilding infrastructure in developing countries, to help forestall disasters or, as in Haiti, recover from one. Among them are new ideas and projects to supply quality housing, clean water, proper waste treatment and affordable energy, in addition to health care,” the newspaper writes. “Their promoters share a belief that while the conventional top-down approach, by governments and large relief agencies coming in with large projects, works for initial relief and recovery, long-term reconstruction – ‘building back better,’ in the parlance of redevelopment specialists – requires more involvement of local people,” according to the New York Times.

Elizabeth Sheehan, the founder of the Massachusetts-based Containers to Clinics, “said converting old shipping containers into clinics was just a first step; her group must find doctors and nurses to staff them, as well as drugs and supplies. ‘We’re committed to putting in the human system as well,’ she said. So partnerships with local health groups are crucial,” the newspaper writes.

The newspaper also looks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Lab, “whose instructors and students work on low-tech solutions to infrastructure problems and spend time in the field implementing them. Among the projects are ones to manufacture ceramic water filters in Ghana; install chlorine dispensers to treat drinking water in Kenya; and develop a bicilavadora, a pedal-powered washing machine, in Peru.”

“We’re really not trying to dump some new expert solution on the population,” Peter Haas, founder of the San Francisco-based Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, said. “Working through local businesses, he said, ensures that ideas that do not work do not stay around,” according to the newspaper. For instance, “[i]n Haiti, Mr. Haas’s group has already been helping Coopen, a business cooperative in Cap Haitien that will collect organic waste and human waste from public toilets and convert it to biogas, a fuel, for cooking. And in Guatemala, the group has aided a small company, XelaTeco, that builds hydroelectric projects for rural villages.”

The article also features comments by Malcolm Anderson, a professor in the School of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Bristol in England, who has worked on projects in the Caribbean to educate the population about the disaster risks of hilly shantytowns, and Elizabeth Hausler, an engineer and founder or the organization Build Change, that is working to help communities build earthquake-resistant housing  (Fountain, 1/19).