Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Watering Afghanistan

Japan and Algeria have a joint project going to make solar power plants that also refine solar cells from the desert sand. This would enable plants to effectively reproduce themselves -- haul the solar cells a few miles away, set them in a concrete lattice, and this is power plant #2. They hope to cover the Sahara desert in these power plants, which would provide half the energy needs of humankind. Here's the video:

This inspired another Japanese scientist to cut a deal in Afghanistan to bring water for humanitarian purposes, as well as sociological studies of the plausibility of this kind of thing. There's a video of that too except it's in Japanese and I can't find an English language version of it. Sorry. I'll report on the English language report that brought this to my attention.
It seems that his original plan was to make concrete rivers that slowly leech water into the surrounding environment, which encourages plant growth and fertility, which reinforces the river in a continuous positive feedback cycle. Japan has many concrete rivers due to paving over natural rivers (and then, to the bafflement of the rest of the world, claiming that the river is still in its natural state). So this technique would be quite familiar to him. Only...turns out concrete is kind of hard to buy and pour in Afghanistan. Too much disruption. So he changed the plan to use chicken wire and rocks. Afghans are often quite familiar with chicken wire for use in caging in domestic animals, and there's no shortage of rocks. Already a number of rivers have been built this way. First, make a box with chicken wire. Then fill that box with rocks. this is now the bank of the river. Make a bank all the way up a mountain, where one finds likely sources of water, and let the water flow. A small amount of the river's water leeches into the ground water, irrigating miles around it.
The scientist, Dr.Tetsu Nakamura, also likes this plan because it can now continue without him. Already Afghans have been trained in the basic techniques, and are now improving conditions in their own country on their own effort. If this succeeds, they will not need foreign aid, relief work, or any of the other usual solutions to poverty and want. And that's the way the charitable want it.
It was speculated that all this kicked off from a pun. Japan's native name for itself ("Nihon") translates to something like "Origin of the Sun," which leads Japanese people to think of the sun quite a lot, and makes them very enthusiastic about solar power. If this is true, then perhaps I should ask Chinese people for advice on geothermal energy, because their country's name translates literally as "Center nation."
(America is named after an explorer, and my country's full name is the United States of America because we're not very creative at coming up with national names.)

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