Peacekeeping: Appropriate Technology

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October 14, 2009: Reconstruction efforts in Iraq included bringing in a lot of high tech equipment, particularly for hospitals. This worked quite well, because Iraq had a well educated population and a large number of medical specialists who had trained or worked in the West, and were able to quickly adapt to the latest equipment. This did not work in Afghanistan, where less than a third of the population is literate and there are far fewer medical specialists, and technically trained people in general. Attempts to introduce advanced medical and dental equipment outside cities often resulted in the high tech gear being abandoned after the Western medical personnel and technicians moved on. There simply were not enough specialists available in the countryside to operate, much less maintain, high tech equipment.

This is not unique to Afghanistan. Other parts of the world, particularly in Africa, where literacy is low and technical specialists are scarce, foreign aid personnel have learned to introduce "appropriate technology" in areas where that is all that can be used on a sustained basis. In the United States and Europe, inventors have developed "appropriate technology" for these situations. For medical and dental purposes, much can be learned from the experience of China, where the "appropriate technology" approach was widely used in the 1950s and 60s to bring medical care to rural areas. Russia used a similar approach, by providing basic medical training to a large number of rural men and women, and supplying them with basic tools and medicines. These programs greatly increased the amount of medical care for areas that previously had very little.

"Appropriate technology" has also been applied to agriculture, by developing low-tech irrigation machinery and tools. Inexpensive, and highly efficient stoves, that can be built manually from local materials, greatly reduced the amount of fuel needed for cooking.

More and more reconstruction workers in Afghanistan are pushing the greater use of "appropriate technology". At the moment, nothing else will really work.

 


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