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Technological principles

A balanced approach towards ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ components of projects should be adopted



Providing a reliable supply of water for domestic or agricultural purposes requires careful attention to ‘hardware’, suitably balanced by attention to ‘software’ aspects. Technological innovation and adaptation are integral to many of the water-saving measures, service extensions and system improvements urgently required. Technical issues largely determine the costs of a given water-related project, and thus remain of paramount importance.

The present water-related project cycle can, in many settings, be characterised as ‘build, neglect, rebuild’. Where the technology deployed is remote from the users’ capacity to maintain, operate or pay for it, prospects of sustainability of the service are equally remote. Thus the development of water and waste disposal infrastructure and irrigation works needs to take technological considerations, as well as local management capacities and community resources, into account.

Technology itself needs to be provided within an integrated framework. A project designed to provide a new supply of water, for example, should take into account the need to dispose of, or recycle, run-off and used water. Irrigation works should take into account the potential for soil degradation or water-related health hazards, such as the development of mosquito breeding-grounds

Choice of technology should be governed by considerations of its efficiency, appropriateness, cost, and suitability for local conditions

Engineering solutions need to be selected according to criteria which include efficiency, appropriateness, cost and their potential for adaptation to the local environment. The desired approach can be summarised by the term ‘appropriate modern technology ', capturing elements of cost-efficiency and suitability for the purpose (see Part III).

There have been numerous examples of poor project outcomes due to the selection of over-costly and inappropriate technology, which has fallen into disrepair because maintenance was too difficult, or which has caused unanticipated environmental damage.

A common problem in many infrastructure projects has been the importation of technology from industrialised countries unsuited to the physical, economic and social conditions in which the system is located. Highly professional technical advice is required to guide the choice of technology – whether it is to be ‘high-tech’ or ‘low­tech’, it should still be ‘state of the art’; and the choice of materials should receive careful consideration regarding safety and environmental suitability. As importantly, technical decisions must take into account the social and economic context in which infrastructure will have to be maintained. Long-term affordability and sustainability often hinge upon decisions taken concerning technology including energy sources for pumping. Thus, critical social and economic considerations about the viability of a technology in a given setting should not be ignored.

Technologies should not burden operators or tie them into costly and unreliable supply contracts; consideration should also be given to the prospects of technology transfer and local manufacture.

To facilitate cost-effective operation and maintenance, upgrading technologies that permit staged development are desirable, especially in settings where systems and services are being introduced for the first time. These can be developed on the basis of indigenous technologies and local knowledge, and on scaled-down versions of existing systems (in the case of sewerage, for example).

To facilitate effective operation and maintenance, easy availability of spare parts, and convenient training of operatives including local community workers, standardisation of technology needs to be assured. This issue may need to be addressed within the regulatory framework.

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