For 15 years, the city of Gweru in central Zimbabwe has been increasingly dry, with water failing to flow into one of their reservoirs. However new water infrastructure would cost the council US $10 million. Since Zimbabwe is enduring extraordinarily tough economic times, an expense of this magnitude was daunting.
As is so often the case, a group of engineers managed to save the day! With little in their public coffers, the Zimbabwean government enlisted the help of the German Development Cooperation-GIZ-Ausaid. GIZ-Ausaid’s head of urban water and sanitation, Mr Stephen Lidsber told the Herald newspaper:
“We asked them what was wrong with the old infrastructure. We decided to fly in a team of German engineers to look at the problem. They spent a good two months looking at ways of getting the water into the city’s reservoir. They discovered it was just a single valve that was malfunctioning. So they opened the valve and they are now able to pump water into the Kopje reservoir tanks.”
Instead of the anticipated $10 million, the German engineers cost the Zimbabwean city US $60,000.
The German Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Thorsten Hutter, praised the city’s frugal approach to the problem. He said:
“Maintenance is always cheaper than buying new equipment. As a local authority, it is important you invest in maintenance. This partnership shows good cooperation based on mutual respect and I hope it will last for a long time.”
Can we fix it? Yes, we can
A culture of consumerism has, unfortunately, become the norm; even fashionable. It has resulted in many industries intentionally engineering products that break more quickly than in the past. This approach has turned us into a throw-away society — it encourages us to replace products rather than consider alternatives.
However, the old culture of repair is at last re-emerging and will, in time, replace our tendency to discard engineered products.
It is a significant shift, particularly for those nations having to eke out scarce resources.
And then there is the issue of landfill.
According to the North London Waste Authority (NWLA), in the UK 22 million pieces of furniture, 11,000 bicycles, and over 28 million toys are thrown away every year when in reality they could be repaired. The NWLA’s Clyde Loakes told Sky News:
“We’ve got ourselves into a bit of a rut and it’s not just a London thing, it’s not just a UK thing, it’s a global thing. We buy things for a certain period of time and when it breaks, because we’ve lost the skills to fix things, we just throw those items away and it’s just easier and more convenient to just go and buy a replacement.”
Several groups or clubs are starting up in Europe (and indeed elsewhere); they encourage meetups to assist with repairing technology. Some groups like ‘The Restart Project’ host parties and promote volunteerism in the repairing industry. Their website indexes repair parties across England. It says:
“Come to one of our free community repair events, where our volunteer fixers will help you learn how to repair your broken or slow devices - and tackle the growing mountain of e-waste.”
The Culture of Repair Organization’s website targets a wide audience; with some of their educational resources for those still at school. It is likely that curricula encouraging a culture of repair will become commonplace in the next few years.
One startup, the Fixit Clinic, is training the designers and engineers of tomorrow to manufacture longer-life products. The clinics hope to influence the way designers and engineers design and create products later on in their careers.
The culture of repair supports the environmentalist: where the world of manufacturing becomes more sustainable and is in sync with other, but related environmental principles: reuse, reduce and recycle.
“Educator Resources.” Culture of Repair, www.cultureofrepair.org/educator-resources/.
Herald. “The Herald.” The Herald, The Herald, 16 Nov. 2018, www.herald.co.zw/.
Vittozzi, Katerina, and Sky News. “We Throw Away Millions of Items That Could Be Repaired.” Sky News, Sky News, 4 Nov. 2018, news.sky.com/story/we-throw-away-millions-of-items-that-could-be-repaired-11544441.