Every time we pass through Kapchorwa Uganda on the way to our projects we pass by something you can’t help but stare at. As we are winding our way up gorgeous mountains, peeking out at waterfalls and bubbling rivers, we suddenly slam into a giant scar carved into the side of the mountain.
The earth is splayed open being stripped away by machines producing a black fog of exhaust and upturned dust. This paradise suddenly shifts into a startling reminder of the consequences of “development”. Everything we do as engineers no matter how well intentioned, has negative consequences.
Highway overpasses may make our commute to work more efficient, but they can also divide communities and drive down property values. Frequently they are built through communities that comprise of underrepresented and marginalized populations.
Rural water systems can provide a reliable and safe source of drinking water. However, they can also draw down water tables and hurt those in the larger region that collect from water from rivers and don’t have access to the water system. Frequently these systems are not maintained and break down. Many times, the water in these systems is contaminated, and even if it isn’t people pour their water into contaminated containers.
Other interventions like bridges and roads can connect people. Transportation infrastructure can save lives, by allowing people to reach hospitals. It can help people sell their goods in new markets, attend school, and find work outside of their communities. However it can also change the dynamics of market competition, and dislocate people and endangered wildlife whose homes are situated along the proposed route.
Responsible engineering, includes weighing all of the impacts a project could have, understanding the environment and culture that the project will be a part of. Most of all it means ensuring the safety of and benefit to the public are realized sustainability.
Seeing the strip mine in Kapchorwa reminds me of the true cost of all these efforts. It reminds me of who is really making the sacrifice for these interventions. Interventions, that are not always wanted. Seeing the strip mine makes me wonder, who the land belonged to and how much of a choice they had in giving it away. Did they feel pressured or coerced? Did they feel economic or political pressure to sell? Did they receive fair compensation? How can we make sure that we are sourcing all of our materials responsibly, ensuring equality in every stage of our protects, and protecting those who have been historically oppressed or marginalized? And most of all:
what are the negative consequences we are overlooking? What and who are we forgetting?
Note: Opinions are my own and not the views of Bridges to Prosperity.