It makes no sense. We know it makes no sense. It doesn’t change.
Baffled? I am.
It’s rare I let myself think about these sort of things. I read about them all the time, sure. I study the causes and effects of poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, conflict; but I don’t think about them. I don’t have the time to feel the emotional distress or analyse my personal failure for not making a difference.
What am I talking about? Well it could be anything really. I’ll stick to this though: technology. Covers a lot of ground. Decades after the take-off of post-industrialism, technology rules our lives more than ever. We can clone sea-horses and send condiments to space. We can finally foresee creationism trumped by the almighty ‘God particle’. I can tweet Justin Bieber from the toilet and play a never-ending game of transatlantic Pictionary at the same time.
So why is all this technology benefiting those who already have everything? And why can’t we muster the intelligence to implement a few simple irrigations systems in Brazil or a million or so pills to eradicate intestinal worms? Technology is rapidly changing the context of the global South, it’s true. The Economist reported this week that Africa far surpasses other regions in the use of ‘mobile money’ bank management. In Kenya, for example 68% of adults access their bank accounts via mobile phone. Incredible.
Despite this progress and that of corporate responsibility programmes (like Unilever’s hand soap campaign in India), technology is concentrated in the consumer-driven markets of the advanced economies. There is so much scope for profit-driven ventures to expand into the developing world with simple technology. Make money in an untapped market and make significant contributions to the world. Simple, right? It is, actually. Consider this concept; LifeStraw, uses basic filtration technology to improve conditions for the 884 million people in the world who do not have access to safe drinking water. Simply put, this is a straw that can filter contaminated water to prevent the spread of infectious diseases that linger in polluted water. Diarrhoeal diseases like Cholera and Dysentery are life threatening, especially for young children. They are the leading cause of school absences and agricultural non-productivity in the developing world. LifeStraw is by no means perfect and it is unlikely to drastically reverse our problems of water supply. It is too expensive and too inefficient. The idea, however represents a vital dynamism that can be replicated and improved.
We can’t keep it to ourselves forever. Whether these technologies are brought to those who need them or taken by them, they will reach them eventually. Think of all the time (not to mind lives) that could be saved by doing it now and doing it right.