Friday, February 27, 2004

A Fabulous Idea In South Africa

Some ideas make so much sense, in retrospect, that it's almost hard to recognize how brilliantly innovative they are:
Kids run in a circle and push a merry-go-round faster and faster. Those who are seated on the ride, get dizzy from the speed...laughing and giddy from the force of gravity. [...]

The children push the merry-go-round again and again. As they run, a device in the ground beneath them begins to turn. With every rotation of the merry-go-round, water is pumped out of a well, up through a pipe, and into a tank high above the playground.

A few feet away from all the fun, students in uniform turn on a tap. Clean, cold drinking water pours out. [...] Field says the energy created by kids turning a merry-go-round generates enough power to supply a village of 3000 people with clean drinking water.
The technical specs, if you're interested, are here. 500 of these "Play-Pumps" have already been installed in South Africa, funded by collaborations between businesses, foundations, and the South African government. The World Bank just provided money to install forty more.

It's hard to conceive of just what a big difference this makes for poor women in South Africa, whose exclusive responsibility it is to fetch water for their families. It's not uncommon for these women to spend four hours a day carrying heavy containers of water over long distances. The Women's Environment and Development Organization says that the "inordinate burden of fetching water inhibits women's and girl's involvement in other activities such as education, income generation, cultural and political involvement, and rest and recreation." The installation of these Play-Pumps means that water is available close by, and it's efficiently pumped up and stored by children who are just having fun. What a beautiful project.

(Via Mary MacTavish)