New Innovation: Gravity Lights!

18 01 2013

Happy 2013! We made it past the end of the Mayan calendar cycle.

One of my biggest passions in development work is low-cost technology. There are so many amazing small ideas out there with BIG impact potential. Here is my latest favourite:

The Gravity Light

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Imagine how many ways this technology can have an impact… evening classes, reduced lung cancers from inhaling kerosene or smoke, an endless supply of energy, reading after a long day, being able to continue to work after it gets dark, finding your way back to your home from the toilet, a couple could give kids a safe space to play outside at night…

They have already beat their original funding goal of $55,000 by ~800%, having raised almost $400,000! They are currently working on the second model.

Keep up the great work Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves!
– Sarah Topps 2013





Seawater rising? Or the riverbeds sinking!

22 09 2009

Climate change has become a big issue in recent decades, and one of the major indicators that many people point to as a worrying potential problem is the rise in sea levels globally. There are island nations buying up land in foreign countries, people moving further inland, worse floods every year from tropical storms and hurricanes – yet perhaps an even more worrying problem is that the land itself is SINKING!

Scientists in the well-known and respected journal “Nature Geoscience” have recently published an article on the impact of human activities on the land drop towards sea level in many deltas worldwide. This closure towards the water, they claim, is far greater than the rise in sea level faced by the same inhabitants. Their abstract, below, will give a quick glimpse into the problem:

Many of the world’s largest deltas are densely populated and heavily farmed. Yet many of their inhabitants are becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding and conversions of their land to open ocean. The vulnerability is a result of sediment compaction from the removal of oil, gas and water from the delta’s underlying sediments, the trapping of sediment in reservoirs upstream and floodplain engineering in combination with rising global sea level. Here we present an assessment of 33 deltas chosen to represent the world’s deltas. We find that in the past decade, 85% of the deltas experienced severe flooding, resulting in the temporary submergence of 260,000 km2. We conservatively estimate that the delta surface area vulnerable to flooding could increase by 50% under the current projected values for sea-level rise in the twenty-first century. This figure could increase if the capture of sediment upstream persists and continues to prevent the growth and buffering of the deltas.”

Taken from: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/ngeo629.html

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Chao Phraya River Basin

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Chao Phraya, (see image above) the river which flows through Bangkok is one of the worst affected – parts of the delta have sunk 15cm (six inches)! Compare this to the global rate of sea level rise due to climate change at only 1.8-3.0mm per year – nearly a tenfold difference!

Scientists estimate that the area of land vulnerable to flooding will increase by about 50% in the next 40 years due to a combination of climate change causing sea levels to rise and land sinking due to human causes.

“This study shows there are a host of human-induced factors that already cause deltas to sink much more rapidly than could be explained by sea level alone.” Journal Geoscience Article

The researchers report that the flow of sediment down to the Chao Phraya delta has been almost entirely blocked, due to  irrigation, damming the river, and directing the main flow through just a few channels. In rivers with no dams or man-made controls, the sediment would pass down the river and add to the height of the land, a process known as aggradation. (see image below) Now, the sediment can’t reach many delta areas. The further extraction of water and gas for irrigation, drinking, and industry further compacts the land.

Aggradation

As reported in the BBC yesterday, “Rivers affected include the Colorado, Nile, Pearl, Rhone and Yangtze. Of the 33 major deltas studied, 24 were found to be sinking. About half a billion people live in these regions…

THE HIGH-RISK LIST
Deltas with “virtually no aggradation (supply of sediment) and/or very high accelerated compaction”
Chao Phraya, Thailand
Colorado, Mexico
Krishna, India
Nile, Egypt
Pearl, China
Po, Italy
Rhone, France
Sao Francisco, Brazil
Tone, Japan
Yangtze, China
Yellow, China

As the ground falls and sea level rises, people become more vulnerable to inundation during storms.
Every year, about 10 million people are being affected by storm surges,” said Irina Overeem, another of the study team from the University of Colorado.

So should we be worrying about the inevitable rise in sea levels? Or more focused on the major impacts we are still having on these sinking river deltas, which around the world are home to almost half a billion human beings?

– Sarah Topps





Farmer Suicides

5 05 2009

Recently I was horrified to learn that mass suicide due to debt is not uncommon in some parts of the world. Some 1500 farmers committed suicide last month in India due to their debt from crop failure. A further 200 000 have died since 1997, a mere 12 years ago.

The article goes on to talk about Australian farmer suicides – they’re killing themselves at the staggering rate of one farmer every four days! I am blown away by these numbers – surely in a developed country such as Australia there must be other options for these people? I feel I have to question a system where individuals are driven not only to debt and unemployment, but actual suicide over their crop failures.

vandanashiva1Vandana Shiva is a well-known activist in this area, working mostly in India, she gives hope to the people, helping to organize countless protests and demonstrations against everything from major-scale dams and hydro-electric projects funded by the World Bank, to the maltreatment of individual squatters in the cities.

– Sarah Topps








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