Wednesday, August 17, 2005

ITDG SUDAN: Small Is Beautiful

Folks familiar with sustainable development know about the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG). Founded in 1966 by the "radical" economist, Dr. E.F. Schumacher, ITDG has been spreading its philosophy of "Small is Beautiful" around the world since that time while it instituted projects to "demonstrate and advocate the sustainable use of technology to reduce poverty in developing countries."

But ITDG is so large; I am going to have to write about it in more than one article.

Today's article is about ITDG Sudan and before I go much further, I should let you know that ITDG will soon be changing its name to "Practical Action'. But in this article, I am going to still use the old name, "ITDG."

Since its founding on the belief that the philosophy of "Small is Beautiful' could bring real and sustainable improvements to people's lives ITDG has been committed to poverty reduction, environmental conservation and technology choice.

ITDG's work in Sudan is aimed at "improving the livelihoods of poor communities in selected areas of the country through building the capacity of small-scale producers and their institutions." And its been doing that every since since1974 when it first came to the country to set up a motorised ferro-cement boat building project in the city of Juba, in the southern area of the nation. There was a great need for local river transport along the upper reaches of the Nile and the Sudan Council of Churches and Christian Aid had asked for ITDG's help in addressing this problem.

In 1987 ITDG was again invited to lend its efforts in Sudan when Oxfam asked it to give technical input into the Kebkabiya smallholders programme in North Darfur. Its experiences in Sudan led to a decision by ITDG to extend its operations in that country and a permanent "ITDG Sudan" office was opened in December of 1992. A year later ITDG developed an integrated technology programme in eastern Sudan that worked with agroprocessing, manufacturing, transport and building materials.

Currently, ITDG Sudan is operating in eastern Sudan in Kassala and Gedarif States, and in western Sudan in North Darfur State.

While paying particular attention to disadvantaged sections of the community such as poor families, households headed by women, the disabled or other marginalised groups ITDG Sudan organizes its work around a range of technologies and policy research strategies with a focus on the socio-economic implications of introducing "new" technologies.

The organization does this by working closely with beneficiary communities and applying a participatory methodology in assessing the communities' needs and also monitoring the progress of and the impact upon those communities while developing and transferring technologies.

ITDG Sudan is also very mindful of the fact that it wants its projects to remain "environmentally friendly, gender sensitive and contribute to the overall sustainable livelihoods of the poor communities with which it works."

Harsh environments, limited economic opportunities, lack of access to basic services and civil war contribute to the extreme poverty that faces the communities targeted by ITDG Sudan. But the ITDG's staff tackles the problems - often at the risk of their own personal safety.

Because of the conflict in Darfur, ITDG has had to focus on helping the people of that region cope with the emergency as well as build for the future. And it has been reported that he violence in Darfur has done great damage to their projects.

ITDG is a registered charity in Sudan and has its main office in Khartoum while it operates two field office; one in the east and the other in the west.

There is another major problem in Sudan, and that is the availability of water to the poor in Khartoum state. During the last two decades, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and rural- urban migrants have greatly inflated the population in Khartoum State. The number of individuals has risen from 3.5 million to 7 million people in that time. The influx of this population has created informal settlements on the outskirts of the city and even deep into rural areas of the state. These settlements have also absorbed some of the urban poor who could not afford to housing within the city.

Most of the people living in these informal settlements suffer severe poverty caused by lack of education, skills, job opportunities and access to basic services. Research into the conditions in these communities showed that households rate potable water as a top priority for improvement of living conditions before addressing access to employment, education, health facilities, environmental sanitation and other issues.

This study led ITDG to participate in an international research project funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), called Better Access to Water in Informal Settlements. This project was conducted in Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, as well as in Sudan during 2003 and 2004. The goal of this research is to "raise the well-being of the poor in informal urban settlements through cost-effective improved water supply services by identifying and testing constraints, opportunities and strategies that can enable small waterproviding enterprises to deliver an acceptable water service to poor urban consumers."

One of the outcomes of this study was the reaffirmation of the importance of the Small Water Enterprises (SWE), which are basically water carts.

The SWEs Vendors are the cheapest means for water distribution at household level and ITDG believes that NGOs could help the problem of accessing water for the poor by helping the governmental authorities design and implement programs that could improve this availability of this resource to the poor.

Here the matter rises to a level that requires a more through discussion than I can provide in this article. But, if you read ITDG Sudan's web site where this study and its resulting findings are discussed, it will give you a very good idea about what ITDG has been saying all along that "Small is Beautiful" when it is taken within the context of sustainable development and appropriate technology. Plus there are descriptions of other very interesting projects as well.

Take the time and read the material, you'll be glad that you did. It can be found at:

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