Saturday, 11 October 2008

An Evolution of Thought

So 10,000 people will die today from preventable water-borne diseases…

Alright… so what do we do now? Is there anything we can do? Why should we care? Since people die every day, will it really matter in the giant scheme of things?

To be completely honest, I’m still searching for these answers myself. At this point, I don’t really know what I can do, if my actions will have any significant impact, or whether this project will sink or swim. In the back of my mind, I’m still trying to grasp the overwhelming question: Will it even matter?

During one of our first class lectures, Dr. Oerther asked everyone to anonymously write their definition of “appropriate technology” on a small sheet of paper to spark discussion on possible solutions to the current water problem in Gujarat, India. To paraphrase, my definition read something like this:

Appropriate Technology: a method or tool that improves the quality of life with minimal intrusion on environmental, social, or environmental norms”

As a social conservative, I usually prefer the “hands-off” approach with the idea that most problems will solve themselves if given enough time. Is this view ethically responsible given the fact that 10,000 people are dying daily from water quality issues? Probably not, but at the time (and still somewhat currently) I’ve had difficulty wrapping my head around a possible solution for India’s pressing water problem.

Throughout my collegiate training as a biomedical engineer, the design process is fairly straight-forward: identify the problem, determine what the user wants, look for similar current technologies, design, prototype, analyze, and implement. In the end, the engineer has created a nifty gadget that may or may not make the physician’s job easier and fully complies to FDA standards on documentation and pre-clinical trials. This design process works very well on small-scale projects, but the model is difficult to fit to large-scale world issues.

Naively going into this project, my plan of action was to figure out the problem, design some sort of sustainable object that would clean people’s drinking water, build a prototype, and test it in India. Unfortunately, I think my expectations were a little skewed…

Starting my third week of this class, I have come to realize that this problem has deeper roots than simply designing a little filter to remove nasty germs and chemicals from the drinking water. With that said, I’m still trying to figure out what and if there is anything that we as a class can do to fix Gujarat’s lack of drinkable water supply.

One thing that I have learned, however, is that we cannot simply do nothing. Whether Indian government policy needs to be shifted, appropriate funding be allocated, or new technology implemented, it is not socially responsible to allow a nation to drink itself into extinction.

Okay, so I’ve now taken the first step: realizing something must be done to help.

Where do I go from here? Now I need to start figuring out how India got into this mess in the first place.

We cannot search for an answer without first knowing the question.

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