From the Bottom Up

I had to answer some questions in an application recently. I thought the answers were blog worthy.

Describe the world as it is. (a description of the status quo and context in which you will be working)

Stresses to infrastructure arise when it is asked to supply more than it can deliver. Sometimes this is an explosion of need following disastrous events, or it can be a slow build up as the old infrastructure falls behind due to increased demand or diminished capacity. Failure to expand can be caused by technological, physical, financial or governance limitations

The amenities of normal life, food, water, health, sanitation, energy, transport, communication, shelter and security are all delivered through complex interdependent supply chains. The increasing level of arbitration from the source has disconnected people from the reality of delivering these services. Water, sanitation, energy and communications can be reduced to a series of six wires or pipes that connect to the home and account for a fair part of the originally listed above amenities. These needs are currently normally delivered through centralised, fragile, expensive and old infrastructure with limited scope for expansion.

The impossibility of expanding this supply infrastructure to meet the necessities of ever growing global populations is unrecognised. It is not possible for everyone to have hot and cold water running from their taps on demand if we continue to rely on everyone having contracts with utility companies.

The solutions to needs are often firmly rooted in the limited context of modern high median income nations far away from where the effects are most prominent. Entirely unsuitable for the poor who live in slums or remote communities where it is beyond impractical to connect their homes to a national water, gas or electricity network. Increased education and improved finances ignore the fact that even if everyone has a decent level of education someone will still work in a mine and will still be relatively poor. The delivery of many of these services is predicated on asymmetric life standards.

What change do you want to make? (a description of what you want to change about the status quo, in the world, your personal vision for this area)

A different mindset is necessary to deliver these services to the poorest communities. To raise the standard of living from the bottom up and disconnect being poor from the destitution that normally accompanies it. Lack of money should not equate to lack of services, especially if this is due to the wrong approach to delivering these services. People should be able to provide for themselves essential services, even in the absence of governance.

Effort should be redoubled to find solutions to meet these burgeoning needs in a way that scalable, viable and more than a limited patch on an already overstressed and fragile system. Tools that were originally given as disaster relief can become development aid if they are durable, modular and transportable. Dissolving the line between disaster relief and development aid is the key to clarifying the goal of poverty relief in the developing world: to restore economic self-sufficiency to people.

What do you want to explore? (a description of the innovations or questions you would like to explore during the fellowship year)

I want to explore how to deliver as many of these utilities through fine-grained localised infrastructure. This is not to say that solutions reliant on foreign design, manufacturing or resources are ruled out. The focus would be defined by two questions, how resilient and amenable is the solution to both short term and long term stresses, and does it leave the recipient financially worse off than before? Fine-grained, localised infrastructure is usually very resilient. Localized infrastructure is particularly appropriate for remote communities, refugees and disaster areas because it continues to work when everything else is broken.

I would like to continue the research of the Hexayurt Project and the Hexayurt Infrastructure Package. It is an approach to providing housing, drinking water, cooking, sanitation and all other essential services, with limited reliance on centralised infrastructure, using appropriate technology designs drawn from the public domain and suitable for low cost mass production or local manufacture. It focuses on providing infrastructure at the household level meaning it is highly scalable, additionally households are now mobile and can resettle comfortably in new location when circumstances necessitate it.

Simply put, I wish to explore what are the already existing solutions, or are near completion, that would deliver these essential services reliably and at low cost?

What are you going to do to get there? (a description of what you actually plan to do during the year)

I will identify and collect products into a condensed list that is suitable to most circumstances and move the Hexayurt Infrastructure Package from a concept to an assortment of named products and solution. Then to promote these solutions to relevant parties such as the Department for International Development and Non-Governmental organisations

  1. Continue improvement, documentation and promotion of the Hexayurt
  2. Identify, document and promote a simple at point of use water filter.
  3. Identify, document and promote a simple fuel efficient stove.
  4. Identify, document and promote a simple composting toilet.
  5. Identify, document and promote a simple rechargeable solar light.
  6. Identify, document and promote cheap and energy efficient electronic devices charging solutions.
  7. Collect all into the Hexayurt Infrastructure Package
  8. Identify, document and promote solutions for alternative circumstances e.g. heaters, coolers, insulation, anchoring, and foundation.
  9. Identify, document and promote wider infrastructure solutions e.g. manufacture, waste and recycling.

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