Following the construction industry and related legal topics in the United States.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Let's Not Forget Low-Tech in a High Tech World

The Special Projects Office of the United Nations (UN), Fergus Gleeson, has reported in the Irish Engineers Journal, vol. 58:01 January/February 2004, that for countries whose infrastructure has been damaged by war, "labour-based technology is appropriate." The concept finds expression in Afghanistan under the National Emergency Employment Programme. Through this program, construction technologies are "those founded on indigenous knowledge, skills and materials, thereby allowing a maximum of the project fund to be retained within the project area." This policy of labour based appropriate technology (LBAT) is coupled with "social targeting," a process that allows a society's most vulnerable groups located in the project's area to benefit from the work. In Afghanistan, those target populations include disabled, female heads of households, women in poverty, nomadic people who have suffered catastrophic losses, ex-combatants and elderly. These constituencies are typically excluded from such construction projects, which has the effect of enhancing their vulnerability. LBAT can reverse that trend where "design of the actual work methods as well as the infrastructure [allows] these people [to] participate in the works in a manner that is socially acceptable."

An example noted in the article is stone, an abundant resource in Afghanistan. Stone masonry is a well developed skill among the people. So, under a social targeting LBAT model, project design will incorporate stone paved roads to make use of indigenous materials and local expertise. The article highlights the substantial economic benefits that can be realized on a local and regional level, and counters claims that LBAT results in lower quality work: "Simple yet highly effective quality control methods and site control and instruction can be used to ensure that the infrastructure is constructed in accordance with detailed engineering specifications and designs." For more about this interesting approach to construction in countries rebuilding war-torn infrastructure, see here.

This public policy is not profound, but it would seem to have profound impact. It also drives home the simple fact - recognized in the "New Deal" programs - that even a high tech world calls for low tech approaches, especially where social conditions need to be addressed. (This blog entry published by Laura Luger of Womble Carlyle's construction and real estate practice group.)


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