Observations of a Non-Scientist about Sustainable Living, Renewable Energy and the Power of the Sun.

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-Ethiopian proverb

Save some for the next guy.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”
- Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, August 8, 2011

Just Add Water: Building a Sustainable Community in Africa

Just Add Water: Building a Sustainable Community in Africa:

"More recently, I spent some time in Kenya as part of a group of master’s students from the University of Michigan working with the Mpala Wildlife Foundation. Our group provided research and analysis to help the organization develop a path to sustainable growth and responsible energy consumption. Through this work, I’ve found that “location, location, location” is also a useful guiding principle for sustainability and growth in the developing world.

When it comes to working with local businesspeople, conservationists and citizens in parts of the world where economic development is speeding up exponentially, it always comes back to the land. It is, quite literally, people’s sense of place that influences their desire to increase wealth without decreasing the long term value of the land on which, and by which, they live."

our team learned about sustainable development, and the importance of the land, while in Africa.
Sustainability in the developing world is too often unseen and undervalued. As regions like rural China, India and sub-Saharan Africa begin to emerge as manufacturing and raw materials production centers, these areas struggle with the challenge of supporting sustainable growth. The conventional wisdom is that desperately needed economic development always comes at a cost to the local human and environmental ecosystems – and that Western governments and companies are either limited in their abilities to influence sustainable change, or unwilling to go there.
One organization proactively addressing this challenge is the Mpala Wildlife Foundation in Kenya, which worked with my team from the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the School of Natural Resources, under the guidance and with financial support from the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan, to design and implement a water conservation and alternative energy strategy. The project, which was the basis for the team’s masters project thesis, is part of a wider initiative to engage the Mpala community in sustainability efforts that will protect not just wildlife, but also human development as the region works to attract investments in its infrastructure.
Mpala by the Numbers
The Mpala Wildlife Conservancy includes a research center, working ranch, conservancy and a variety of community health and outreach programs in Laikipia, Kenya. The conservancy covers 48,000 acres and is home to numerous and diverse animal species, from termites to elephants, and many species of plants.
Mpala also is home to humans, and serves the surrounding community of Kenyans through outreach, education and health programs. Among its initiatives is the Mpala School for children of employees.

Here’s what we found:
1)      Policy, tools and education are the holy trinity of sustainable development – when it comes to water usage and conservation in Mpala, it is essential to have the right conservation and usage policies in place, the tools to support those policies, and formal education of staff, families and visitors about the importance of sustainability in support of the organization’s mission
2)      Solutions that are not rooted in human experience will never succeed – technologies and policies are essential, but they must account for human behavior, and must make room for the time it takes to change those behaviors. Even the most passionate conservationist might be unpleasantly surprised by showers with timers for automatic shut-off; maintenance staff used to dealing with crude filtration or boiling to sanitize water will need training in using and replacing in-line filters and UV treatment bulbs.
3)      A water problem is an energy problem – Mpala sits at a water-energy nexus because its challenges in sourcing, storing and managing clean water are intimately linked to its energy needs. For example, the traditional method of sanitizing water is boiling it; boiling requires energy to heat a burner. And borehole water sources, which are currently used by Mpala residents, require energy-consuming pumps. So we devised a set of recommendations for solar-thermal energy to operate water pumping and heating.
4)      A sense of humor is at least as important as a set of econometric models – although our final report was an intensive, 122-page report including in-depth quantitative analyses of water and energy use, our experience was a rich, challenging and at times funny one. If you think about it, the issues that are at play here are truly life-or-death: without clean water, life cannot survive at Mpala. But the people there bring humor, wisdom and great perspective to the challenges they face, which meant that more than once we had to put our earnest intentions in check and laugh at our own assumptions on occasion.
Conclusion: Not Foregone
When the conversation turns to sustainable development, Africa is an afterthought. India and China seem to hold much more promise in terms of economic growth, and indeed have captured much more attention and airtime on economic and environmental sustainability issues.
But the Mpala project was a worthwhile challenge in helping a geographically isolated community, without ...

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