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Innovation: Cairo’s Green Technology Pioneers

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

One thing is ubiquitous to every country, community and society: garbage. It’s a social and environmental problem, but far from being mere waste, rubbish has its uses. This by-product of the goods and foods consumed can also be a source of fuel. As such it has many advantages, including providing free fuel to cash-strapped households, independence from unreliable municipal services and a way to dispose of waste.

An enterprising Egyptian man is showing his community how it is possible to lower the cost of gas and hot water while also avoiding the service disruptions common with municipal utilities. In the process, he is pioneering a local green innovation model that can be replicated elsewhere.

Biogas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogas) generators — which can transform organic household waste into fuel — have been very successful in India and China. It is estimated there are 20 million small-scale urban biogas digesters in China and 2 million in India.

Hanna Fathy’s roof in the Manshiyet Nasser neighbourhood, home to the Coptic Christian Zabaleen community of Cairo – the city’s traditional garbage collectors and recyclers – is now a utility system, providing biogas and hot water.

The area is made of narrow streets and makeshift houses. Residents live cheek-by-jowl in a neighbourhood that is home to tens of thousands of people.

The community was badly hit when the 300,000 pigs the Christian residents have kept for the past 30 years to eat Cairo’s vegetative waste — an effective garbage-disposal system — were slaughtered under government orders to prevent the spread of swine flu (H1N1) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swine_influenza).

One woman told U.S. National Public Radio about the hard life in the neighbourhood: “I’m working all the time. My hands get dirty, there’s no water. The price of food is too high. The gas has gone up to seven pounds (US $1.28) a bottle, so it’s expensive to heat.

“Everything is so expensive, and I have to live like this?” she said.

Fathy plops kitchen scraps, stale tea and tap water into a jug which he pours into a homemade biogas maker on the roof of his house. The stew of waste mixes with water and a small quantity of animal manure used to start the process, and overnight makes biogas, which is then used for cooking. The digester is able to provide an hour’s worth of cooking gas a day in winter months, and two hours in the summer, from around two kilograms of waste. The remaining waste by product becomes liquid organic fertilizer for the garden.

Fathy has been developing the biogas digester with the NGO Solar Cities (http://solarcities.blogspot.com), which provides designs, technical advice and support to Cairo citizens keen to embrace green technologies.

What is interesting is not only the technology but how that technology is being developed. The approach is to innovate and adapt the technology to local resources and skills. This increases the chances of take-up and buy-in.

The designs for the digesters and heaters have evolved through experimentation, brainstorming and availability of local materials.

Each biogas system costs about US $150 for materials, a cost that is being picked up right now by donations. Solar Cities believes there are only eight biogas digesters in Egypt so far, most built in 2009.

Solar Cities’ founder, Thomas Culhane, points out many urban dwellers do not believe they can generate biogas and associate it with rural systems that use animal manure. But the abundance of urban kitchen waste is in fact an excellent source material for biogas.

Culhane believes the biogas digesters are an excellent solution to two problems: the vast quantities of garbage piling up in Cairo, which has had its traditional disposal system disrupted by the slaughter of the pigs, and the city’s emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Fathy has one goal: to be completely self-sufficient. He has been also prototyping a solar heater on his roof as well as the biogas digester. The solar water heater makes use of items that can be easily found: it recycles black garbage bags, has an aluminium frame and a glass cover. The whole thing rests on a Styrofoam block and uses copper tubes. The water is stored in a bright blue barrel.

Biogas, solar power and other forms of green energy face many obstacles if it is to expand further in Egypt. The average cost of each unit will need to come down to match the income of the users and compete with the government-subsidized energy sector.

Fathy has also found neighbours are skeptical and can’t believe biogas can be made this way.

Another man, Hussain Soliman, had both a solar water heater and biogas digester on the roof of his apartment building before the crumbling building collapsed.

The complete solar water heating system designed by Solar Cities can be assembled for under US $500. It uses two 200-litre recycled industrial shampoo barrels for the holding tank and back-up water supply. The solar panels need to be kept clean from dust every week, but other than that, Culhane insists the heaters require little maintenance.

Now in temporary government housing, Soliman is still enthusiastic about the technology and is re-building a solar heater and biogas digester for his new home.

“I’m planning to collect the organic waste from restaurants in the neighborhood to increase my gas output,” he told IPS News. “I’ll give the restaurants plastic bags and they can separate out the organics, and I’ll collect the bags at the end of each day.”

Published: January 2010

Resources

1) Practical Action has technical drawings and guidelines for making a small biogas digester. Website: http://practicalaction.org/practicalanswers/product_info.php?products_id=42

2)  The Anaerobic Digestion Community: Here is an excellent technical explanation of how a digester works, including a short film. Website: http://www.anaerobic-digestion.com/

3) China boasts a fast-growing biogas economy using farm waste. Here is a full summary of their experience. Website: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BiogasChina.php.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Bamboo Becomes Transport Option for the South

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The sturdy bamboo plant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo) is enjoying a revival around the world as a building material. A strong, fast-growing and highly renewable woody plant, it is becoming increasingly popular as people seek out less environmentally wasteful alternatives to steel and other materials.

But who would have thought bamboo taxis would turn up on the scene?

A fleet of bamboo taxis is now plying the streets in Tabontabon, a municipality in The Philippines that is home to 10,000 people, most of them rice farmers.

Bamboo can sometimes grow more than 1 metre a day. While in Asia, it has long been a traditional construction material, people are now turning to it to make transportation vehicles. In The Philippines, there are 62 species of bamboo, up to 15 of which are suitable for industrial applications.

So-called habal-habal motorcycles, the most popular form of transportation in the town, are also the source of many accidents and are uncomfortable on sunny days or when it rains. A covered taxi service is both a safer and a more comfortable alternative.

The town’s mayor, Rustico Balderian, took the initiative to build a fleet of bamboo taxis. He set four criteria the new taxis had to meet: they should be low-cost, fuel efficient, safe and environmentally friendly. The bamboo has a higher tensile strength (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tensile_strength) than steel, which also requires vast quantities of energy to produce.

The taxis are 90 percent made of bamboo and are built by unemployed youth. They are divided into Eco 1 (a model that seats 20 people and runs for eight hours on one gallon of coco-biodiesel from coconuts) (http://cocobiodiesel.blogspot.com/), and Eco 2, which seats eight people, has a stereo and sound system, and also runs for eight hours on a gallon of coco-biodiesel.

Both are made by the Tabontabon Organic Transport Industry [TOTI] (http://totieco.multiply.com/).

Making vehicles out of bamboo is a serious endeavour that also has been under development in Japan. In 2008, Kyoto University’s Venture Business Laboratory (VBL) unveiled a unique single-seat electric vehicle equipped with a body made from bamboo. The vehicle was developed under the Kyoto Electric Car Development Project, which is one of the laboratory’s major initiatives. Nicknamed Bamgoo, this eco-car’s body is made of braided rods of bamboo, one of the local specialty products of the area.

Other bamboo modes of transport in the South include bamboo bicycles in Ghana. A partnership between an American bike designer and a Ghanaian government initiative is taking advantage of this local resource to manufacture bicycles for the local market – and as a source of export income.

Not only are the Ghanaian builders harvesting bamboo to make bikes for the domestic market, they are also offering a sophisticated online shopping service for the overseas market. People from around the world can now buy Ghanaian bikes using a website (http://www.bamboosero.com). Customers can choose frame builders by their specialty – cargo bike, mountain bike or road bike – and then order it online. The completed bikes are quality checked and then distributed by Calfee Design in California, USA. This approach keeps the middlemen out of the transaction, and means more money gets back to the bike builder.

Meanwhile in Cambodia, the legendary bamboo railway is a people’s solution to the poor service offered by the established railway system. In the northwest of the country near the second city of Battambang, an entire railway system has been built using bamboo.

The bamboo trains, called ‘noris’ or ‘lorries’ by the locals, are driven by a electric generator engine. Passengers sit on a bamboo platform placed on two sets of wheels. The bamboo train reaches speeds of over 40 km/h.

“We’re very careful,” 18-year-old Sok Kimhor, a 10-year veteran of the bamboo trains, told the BBC. “We look out for children and animals running across the lines, and we have to slow down when other trains come along.”

There is just one track, so when two trains meet, one has to be taken off the track to pass.

The regular rail service runs only once a week to the capital, Phnom Penh. This makes the bamboo train the only alternative for many people to get around. While the main railway station is deserted, the bamboo service is a hive of activity.

“They’re very safe – a motorbike taxi is too fast, and if I use one of those I sometimes get dizzy and fall off,” said Sao Nao as she sat on the rails with a small group of people. “On a bamboo train I can sit down and go to sleep. You can’t do that on a motorbike.”

Design for Development (http://designfordevelopment.org/) is also turning to bamboo for a transport solution. The Canadian NGO is working in Kenya on making five emergency medical transportation devices (EMTD), or ambulances, to move local people to health clinics or hospitals. Bamboo is locally available and they hope to set up a workshop and make the ambulances using local labour.

Published: August 2009

Resources

1) A slideshow of the bamboo taxis. Website:http://totieco.multiply.com/photos/album/2/ECO2

2) UNEP, the UN’s Environment Programme, has produced a report on bamboo biodiversity and how it can be preserved. Website: http://www.unep-wcmc.org

3) The Asian Development Bank is using its Markets for Poor programme to link bamboo products to marketplaces, helping poor communities. Website:http://www.markets4poor.org/

4) A blog describing the use of coco-biodiesel in the Philippines. Website: http://cocobiodiesel.blogspot.com/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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A Solution to Stop Garbage Destroying Tourism

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Tourism is an essential source of income for countries across the South. But many put that livelihood in jeopardy when they lose control of garbage collection. A popular tourist spot can represent a ‘paradise’ to visitors, but when it becomes too popular and local garbage collection systems collapse under the burden, ‘paradise’ can soon turn to an environmental hell.

The small, tourist-friendly Indonesian island of Bali (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bali) – known for its idyllic pleasures of spas, surf and serenity – is being overwhelmed by garbage. A survey of tourists found two-thirds would not return to the island because of the problem.

Tourism took off on the island in the 1970s. The economic benefits are clear: the island went from being economically marginal to ranking second only to the country’s capital, Jakarta, in wealth creation. The island received more than 2.38 million tourists in 2009, up 14.5 percent compared with 2008, according to Ida Komang Wisnu, head of the provincial statistics office. But tourism produces on average five kilograms of waste a day per tourist – 10 times what the average Indonesian produces (Bali Fokus).

In the past, the traditional way of serving food in Indonesia was to wrap it in, or serve it on, a palm leaf: a biodegradable approach. But with the huge expansion in use of plastics and non-biodegradable packaging, the waste disposal problem is out of control.

In Indonesia, government garbage disposal services tend to collect between 30 and 40 percent of solid waste, most of this from high income communities. The majority poor population are left to fend for themselves when it comes to waste disposal.

A solution by Yuyun Ismawati, an environmental engineer and consultant, has since 1996 focused on helping poor communities find ways to safely dispose of waste. In 2000, she started her own NGO – Bali Fokus (http://balifokus.asia/balifokus/) – and opened a waste management facility in the Bali village of Temesi. The recycling plant employs 40 people from the village, who sort garbage into recyclables, compost and residual waste. Income from the recycled waste and compost goes to helping local farmers.

She then expanded her concept to include households around Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia. She concentrated on housewives and targeted reducing the amount of household waste going to dump sites. A core team trains housewives in daily habits that separate waste and compost organic matter like vegetable and fruit scraps. Bali Fokus claims it has been able to reduce waste created by 50 percent in 500 homes. Some of the women sell their compost in local markets; recyclables are turned into sellable items.

From 2001 to 2003, Ismawati turned this approach into a replicable template called SANIMAS. By 2008, the SANIMAS template was being used in hundreds of communities across Indonesia.

Her solution to the deluge of tourist waste can be seen in the luxury Jimbaran Bay area of Bali. Traditionally, the area’s hotels would sell their waste to pig farmers. While the pigs feasted on the fancy scraps, the rest of the waste was put in plastic bags and thrown away in mangrove forests.

“I told hotels: Your job is to sell rooms, not to sell garbage,” Ismawati recalls. “We have to protect Bali or else tourists won’t want to come here anymore.”

Ismawati cleverly turned the relationship around: rather than a pig farmer paying for scraps, she convinced one of them there was money to be made recycling and sorting garbage. For this, the hotels would pay the farmer.

A network of 25 hotels now pays to have their garbage taken away and sorted by hand: an important source of full-time jobs.

The workers sort through paper, plastics, glass, aluminium, food scraps and vegetables. Each week, 140 trucks deliver waste to the facility. Only 10 leave with waste that has to go to a dump site.

Food leftovers are bought by local pig farmers and grass clippings and other organic matter is composted (http://www.recyclenow.com/home_composting/), and eventually makes its way back to the hotels and is distributed in the flower beds.

This system has created 400 jobs where the pig farmer once only employed 10 people.

“If you want a hi-tech solution in a developing country you will wait and wait and wait until you get the money, or big donors to fund it,” Ismawati told the Telegraph newspaper. “And even then it may not work.”

A graphic example of this is a donated waste recycling machine given by the local government. It can’t be used because the electricity to power it costs too much. Human labour is a cheaper option.

Bali Fokus’ successful approach has now been replicated in six other sites on the nearby island of Java. And the government of Indonesia has promised to help create 15 more each year.

In 2009 Ismawati won the Goldman Award (http://www.goldmanprize.org/), which honors grassroots environmental heroes from the six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.

She is also working on using decentralized grassroots approaches to bringing sewage disposal and clean water to communities.

Published: March 2010

Resources

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Chilean Eco-Buildings Pioneering Construction Methods

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Across the global South, the search is on for new ways to build without extracting a high price from local environments.

More and more people are recognizing the advantages of energy-saving methods like prefabrication. Prefab building techniques involve assembling a structure from pre-assembled parts or modules made in a factory, or transporting a completed, factory-made structure to a site (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefabricated_building). Pre-fabrication has many advantages, especially now that information technologies bring precision to the building process. Prefabrication means the construction process can be tightly controlled, helping to avoid waste, time delays, weather problems, or any of the other idiosyncrasies of a building site. It can also allow large numbers of dwellings to be built quickly by maximizing skills and efficiencies in an assembly-line model of production.

In South America, a Chilean architecture company has pioneered innovative methods to build and deploy accommodation for tourists in an ecologically fragile area. The prefabricated wood cabins also use many emerging saving technologies and clever design tweaks to protect privacy when located close together.

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Island) sits 3,500 kilometers off the Chilean coast and is well known for its iconic, giant head ancient stone statues, or moai (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moai). Around 3,791 people live on the island – one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world – which is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination.

Tourism is vital to the local economy and many people make their living from it. Enterprises making money from tourists range from dive shops and craft stores to restaurants and hotels.

The island has had a good connection between tourism and improvements in living conditions, with tangible improvements made since the increase in tourism in the 1960s. Clean water and electricity were provided and a hospital and a school built.

In the past few years, more flights from Peru and Chile have increased opportunities to visit the island and lowered flight times. The island’s only airport is being expanded to further increase the capacity of flights, a project due to be completed by 2015.

But tourist numbers in 2010 declined from 2009 and this has been attributed to ongoing conflicts between Chilean authorities and the indigenous Rapa Nui people over ancestral lands.

Here as elsewhere, the challenge is to balance tourism with the fragile local environment. Any further expansion of tourism will need to sit lightly on the land and respect the rights of the Rapa Nui people.

The brief for the Morerava eco cabins (http://www.morerava.com/) was to provide environmentally sensitive accommodation that uses few local resources. Built by Santiago-based Chilean architects AATA Associate Architects (http://aata.cl/), the cabins were prefabricated in a factory and shipped to the island during 2010.

The architects specialize in industrial, commercial, educational and institutional, residential and interior design. They pay attention to environmental conditions and the use of resources.

The cabins are arranged around an elliptical courtyard reflecting the shape of the island’s flag design. They have an open-plan set-up and are long and skinny, with rooms arranged in a line from end to end. Nine cabins accommodate six people each. Cleverly, they are designed to retain privacy while being close together. Privacy is maintained through a strategic use of window placement. On one side of the cabin, the windows are high, while they are low at foot level on the opposite side. This prevents there being a direct sight line into the next cabin, while allowing plenty of light to stream in.

Having the cabins built on the Chilean mainland avoided using up local vegetation and resources. Easter Island once was covered with a palm forest. But over the centuries of human habitation, the forests were cut down and the island became almost barren.

Propped up on stilts, the cabins hover over the moist grass floor to avoid damage from rot. The roof is sturdy and made from zinc steel.

They use little water and energy to function. Cross-ventilation airs the cabins and avoids mechanical systems like energy-gobbling air conditioners. Electricity on the island is generated from expensive petrol, so any means to avoid using it means a big savings.

With a mild climate, the cabins do not need insulation.

Water is captured from rainfall on the roof and is then drained into a storage tank below the cabins (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainwater_harvesting), and hot water is provided by solar heaters placed on the rooftops. This system circulates the hot water without electricity by using a technology called thermosiphon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermosiphon) which exploits the natural phenomenon of heated water being less dense and rising while cooler water flows downward through the force of gravity.

At the other end of the construction spectrum, one of the most notoriously energy-wasting of structures – an office building – has been given a green makeover. Another Chilean pioneer in green architecture is the Santiago headquarters of Empresas Transoceanica (http://www.transoceanica.cl/), a private investment company in real estate, hotels and tourism, agro-industry and logistics. Its new campus HQ – part park, part office building – maximizes light through the building’s long and bulbous shape.

Designed to reduce energy demand while improving work spaces, it favours natural light while avoiding excess heat build up through wooden slats outside the building.

Geothermal energy comes from a well 75 metres below ground. This provides water cooled at 12 degrees Celsius, to cool the building. The building has been built following the strict environmental guidelines laid down in the LEED guidelines (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) – an internationally recognized green building certification system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadership_in_Energy_and_Environmental_Design).

Extensive planning and design work went into making sure the building’s structure, orientation, lighting, insulation and landscaping reduced energy use and need for energy-intensive mechanical solutions. Skylights bring natural light into the building’s public spaces. There are three stories above ground and two stories below providing underground parking.

The landscaped park around the building is actually the roof for the underground parking garage. The whole edifice creates a seamless connection between the building and the greenery and water features surrounding it.

Published: February 2011

Resources

1) Series of photographs and architectural renderings of the Transoceanica headquarters. Website: http://www.plataformaarquitectura.cl/2010/10/28/edificio-transoceanica-arquitectos-2/

2) World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor. Website: www.worldhandsproject.org

3)  Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website: http://builderswithoutborders.org/

4) An inspiring collection of prefabrication buildings and the techniques used to make them. Website: http://inhabitat.com/architecture/prefab-housing/

5)  Tiny House Design Blog: The blog is full of ideas and plans for making small homes cheaply. Website: http://www.tinyhousedesign.com/

6)  Building and Social Housing Foundation: The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website: http://www.bshf.org/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022