Canadian Consulting Engineer

MAILBOX (June 01, 2002)

June 1, 2002
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Technology is not helping poor countriesI liked your Comment and article "Tread Softly" in the October-November 2001 issue about engineering work in Third World countries. This is a very serious subje...

Technology is not helping poor countries

I liked your Comment and article “Tread Softly” in the October-November 2001 issue about engineering work in Third World countries. This is a very serious subject and I hope I can give a broader perspective of the problem.

Most of the explanations regarding development of poor countries given by engineers from industrialized countries fail in a very basic issue: the dilemma of what type of future society the country has in mind.

It is assumed that because industrialized countries have technology, then, other countries at their proper time will have this technology as well. Well, not necessarily. The problem with technology is that it only produces a net positive value to the country that develops it.

Technology produces employment and economic activity in all the stages: research, commercial development and use. Selling the technology to other nations is just a bonus. However, for poor countries the chances of developing technology are very low. Even lower are their chances of advancing to the technological level of rich countries. Technologically developed countries already move much faster than the rest of the planet and hence, no matter how hard the poor countries try, it is beyond their real possibilities to advance to the level of industrialized nations.

Cases are many. In Chile for example, with all the technology available today the country is still with the standard of living it had in 1970, when counted in terms of health, shelter and basic services. In 1989 only 20% of the people living in Santiago had hot water in their houses, although all of them had a TV set.

Another case, at the top of the mining boom, when billions of dollars were being invested in the country, the department of mining engineering of the University of Chile had to close some courses and reduce its staff for lack of interest. It is not a surprise that after many years of dictatorship, people voted again for a president who was a member of the socialist government of Salvador Allende.

The rest of Latin America is not different. When I worked as general marketing representative for Latin America at Siemens Westinghouse, our clients in Colombia and Guatemala had to sell 1,000 tons of sugar (cane based) to buy one set of bearings for their steam turbine. To make matters worse, the U.S. imposes a high import tariff on foreign cane-based sugar. You can understand why some people in poor countries lose their patience. It is not obvious for a Third World country that technology will solve their problems. In many cases, technology has made things worse.

Engineers wanting to help have to educate themselves in the ideological/political discussion that takes place in these countries. Developing countries have an uncertain future and their path may not follow the path of industrialized nations.

Alejandro Gidi, Ph.D., P.Eng.

Hamilton, Ont.

What’s west, what’s east?

As usual, you have produced an interesting, informative publication. However, I question the geographic references in the article entitled “Revelstoke’s Greeley Creek Plant” (January-February 2002).

The plant is described as “the first to use (membrane) technology in the west,” while noting there are such plants in central and eastern Canada. It may make sense to consider Manitoba as “central Canada,” as it is in the geographic centre. However, common Canadian practice — dominated as it is by Ontario/Quebec’s view of things — puts those provinces in the “centre,” while the Maritime provinces constitute the “east” and Manitoba is called the “west.” So, by that standard, the water treatment plant serving the Town of Minitonas, Manitoba, incorporating membrane technology since it was built in 1977, was the first in the west. There have been many others built since then, in Manitoba and elsewhere in the western provinces, although perhaps not in B.C.

I am still proud of the Minitonas plant, as it was the first one on which I played a major design role.

Bill Brant, P.Eng., Vice President

Cochrane Engineering, Winnipeg

Use short words, certainly

The last part of the editorial Comment in the January-February magazine dealt with short words. Years ago I made a club speech in the Big White North with none but short words (those with but one sound clip, just like this one). It was a blast and, as I thought, all loved it.

It was on “clear thoughts.” I took pains to show that we get used to short words as they can best show what we are trying to say. Long words can make our heads spin in the end.

And if our PM and the likes of him, of all stripes and in all parts of our land, could just not use the word “certainly” that much … We now know if that word comes from their tongues, there must be s snake in the grass.

Jacob A. de Raadt, P.Eng., Grassroots Consulting Services

Langley, B.C.

Lease costs not inflated

The problem with the third paragraph logic of “Obstacle Course: Do Company Cars Make Sense?” (by Hank Bulmash, The Bottom Line, March-April) is that 20 years ago $150 was probably equivalent to $1,000 in 2002 dollars, or even more. With small fluctuations, lease costs have remained constant relative to the company profits, cost of living, inflation, etc. Nevertheless, offering employees a taxable car allowance is a better and more flexible option for both parties.

Cam S. Vatandoust, P.Eng.


Accidental error

Re. “Accident or Arrogance? The Petrobras P-36 Disaster,” (March-April). The article notes that “…the P-36 was certified by two international entities, RINA and ABS.” A footnote at the end of the article states: “Royal Institute of Naval Architects in the U.K.; ABS is a Texas-based risk management consulting firm.”

The footnote is unforgivably incorrect!

While indeed “RINA” is often used as an acronym for the Royal Institute of Naval Architects, in this case it stands for “Registro Italiano NAvale” the international ship classification and management system certification society, headquartered in Italy. Similarly, ABS stands for “American Bureau of Shipping,” also an international ship classification and management system certification society, headquartered in Houston, Texas.

I’m sure those readers, like myself, who are associated with the marine and offshore world, were horrified by this error!

Mike Hambly, P.Eng., Manager, Design & Production Services, MIL Systems, Ottawa

Editor’s note: the footnote was my addition, hence my error, not the author’s.


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