Extra mural

Science in society – politics, development and social justice.

A spot of self aggrandising and a few hundred words for your pleasure

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So I’ve been quite quiet of late. Extra mural has gathered dust and pretty much gone into a hibernating state. Well, I have been busy you see.

Medical Media Watch has taken shape, Elements is still growing stronger every day, and the good people of the Financial Times took a holiday from reason and decided I was worthy of being printed.

We await the ABC figures to see how much of a hit the FT took. I’m thinking they’ll drop a few thousand copies in New York for sure.

But here is some writings for you to enjoy, or at least read. Genuine, Extra mural penned, fodder for your brain spaces.


A tap with clear, clean water pouring from it

Potable water is essential for health and prosperity. Dirty water carries disease and poverty. Easy to understand yet the benefit is not appreciated by millions

We live in a time of unparalleled technological advance. Our knowledge of the Universe is immense, growing greater each day.

On a whim we can connect with minds from across the planet. In smallpox we have bested a killer more blood-soaked than any artifice of man. In one giant leap we broke the surly bonds of Earth, reaching out to touch the face of God.

We wallow in our own majesty.

It is too easy to forget the challenges we overcame to sit pretty in this developed world. The aching poverty and suffering of the industrial revolution that brought such desperate hardship.

Our forebears did provide notable services to the world, not least of which in my mind is that easily overlooked treasure that sits under cities around the world: a sewer.

The benefit that comes from three simple things is so great yet so easily forgotten. They are sewers, potable water and roads.

In the late 19th century London witnessed one of the most remarkable engineering feats of any era. It was the construction of the world’s first comprehensive system of intercepting sewers. Laid under the palpitating mass that was Victorian London, it turned the stinking city, thick with disease, into a home that would not choke the life from its population.

This vast creation turned poison into water and set the mark for civic development. It no longer became the norm for the streets to be fetid and cholera was banished.

Where once canals fed the industrial might of Britain in the 18th and 19th century now it is the paved road that carries people to work and goods to be traded; the blood of a society. A paved road means food, medicine and goods can move where needed. These roads mean work, money and opportunity where before there were none.

There are some advocates for this idea. The World Bank, for all its failings, has a budget for providing clean water and sanitation that stands at $11bn. This enormous fund is perhaps unwieldy but it represents a concerted effort to provide these fundamental infrastructures to the world’s poorest.

However who provides such things as roads and sewers, hospitals and houses is a question which will rattle around talking shops and conferences for years I fear.

What the developing world needs desperately is a chance to foster its own innovation, its own growth. To do so it must have a population free from disease long enough to attend school and take jobs. The price we pay for having passed through the pains of development first is to help those suffering now.

Yet it strikes me that many people are blind to this simple concept. It is not so much an elephant in the room as a great farting dirigible orbiting the lampshades. Our eyes are transfixed on the wainscot and not this bald fact that remains as true now as 150 years ago – sewers, roads and water safe to drink really do provide opportunity and save lives.

Picture courtesy of Alexander Anlicker


Written by nascenthack

February 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm

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