Real Innovation

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Technology won’t solve the global water crisis. But it is a vital piece of the solution. An appropriate technology is one that balances the tension between providing enough water, that’s safe to drink, where it’s needed, at a cost that isn’t prohibitive, using materials that are locally accessible, in a total package that considers both the cultural and environmental context.

I hope that sounds complicated and difficult, because it is.

And you might think that solving a problem this challenging means using the latest-greatest solutions. But as it turns out, the best solutions usually aren’t the sexy gadgets that make it into Fast Magazine. More often than not, they are the tried and true technologies that have been around for a long time. In a context where only the strong survive, technologies that have weathered the test of time are ones that have gone through dozens of design iterations; they have the most cost effect parts; they have well established supply chains; they have readily available experts to build and maintain them; and they offer reliability in an industry where money is limited and success and failure is often the difference between life and death for the end user.

Don’t get me wrong. Innovation is a critical part of solving poverty. But when it comes to accessing and purifying one of humanity’s most fundamental needs, there isn’t much that hasn’t already been tried; trust me. So when you hear about the next new invention that’s going to solve the global water crisis, look over the list of what makes a technology appropriate to see if it passes the test.

There are plenty of technologies that have been providing safe water for decades. The real innovation needed to solve the water crisis... is figuring out how to make these sustainable.