Collaborating with UBC Engineers

by - Sunday, June 20, 2010

2010 marks the second year that the Maiwa Foundation has collaborated with the UBC Engineering Department. We were approached by Carla Paterson, Annette Berndt, and Joanne Nakonechny to help with Applied Science 263: Technology and Development.

The course description reads in part:

"In accord with UBC’s commitment to 'prepare students to become exceptional global citizens, and promote the values of a civil and sustainable society', this course focuses on technology in the context of poverty and development."
The Maiwa Foundation proposed three problems that would benefit from specialized engineering knowledge. A key part of the problems was the context in which solutions would be workable and appropriate. In this post we will outline the problems. In a later post we will follow up with some thoughts from this year's poster session.

1) Furnace improvements for rural bellmakers.

In the India's Kutch desert, located in western Gujarat, metal bells are made with simple hand tools and then plated through a process that involves the use of a kiln. The bells are dipped in a powdered mixture of copper and brass, covered with a clay jacket to keep the coating on, and fired. The kiln uses charcoal as a fuel and an electric blower to increase the flow of oxygen and raise the temperature. Charcoal is expensive and increasingly difficult to obtain in the quantities needed. Variations in temperature sometimes result in a failure of the coating.

2) Toxic dyeing outside Jaipur.

Jaipur is known as a historic centre for blockprinting. Over time many blockprinters switched to using the much faster silkscreening process with chemical dyes. When Jaipur prepared for the historic Heritage Festival (which comes with a UNESCO heritage city designation) one of the recommendations was that the toxic silkscreening shops be cleaned up. A very large number relocated to just outside Jaipur in Sanganer. Silkscreening is done with Rapid dyes, Napthol dyes and Azo dyes (certain Azo dyes have been banned in Europe since 2002). The wash water from dyeing is run into the fields or local ditch, this water has high concentrations of toxins and salt (salt is often used at an equal weight to the fabric being dyed). The spent dyes show up on local well water (often as far down as 200 feet). A number of health problems may be traced back to dye effluents.

3) Bleach works on the banks of the Ganges.

Here in the west we buy a lot of clothes. Often what has gone out of fashion, is no longer used or doesn't fit is given to thrift stores. When the thrift stores are overloaded containers of discarded clothing are sent to developing countries. In India container loads of used clothing arrive in small villages located one to two hours outside Kolkata (Calcutta). The garments are shredded and bleached with sodium hydrosulphite to be reused as mattress ticking (stuffing). Cement tanks are built on the banks of the river to take advantage of the ready supply of water. The spent bleach water is emptied from the cement tank onto the riverbank where it runs directly back into the river. The river is central to Indian life. Bathing, washing and fishing all take place within sight of the bleach works. The problem is new and growing quickly throughout India. In 2008 we sighted the first tank, in 2010 there were a dozen more. The impact is considerable. Small village roads cannot handle the large transport of shipping containers, but the most problematic element is, of course, the degradation of water quality.

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