Water Treatment

Opportunity and Obligation

Issue 9 and Volume 114.

By David Wagman, Chief Editor

Haiti, Chile and Pakistan. You’ve seen all three countries on the news this year: earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and major flooding just last month in Pakistan.

You’ve seen video footage of destroyed buildings, damaged infrastructure and women, men and children desperate for help.

And maybe you’ve contributed money to a relief agency. “It’s not much,” you may have thought, “but at least it’s something. What more can I do?”

For one thing, you can think about the potential to help your business at the same time you help vulnerable people in disaster-struck countries.

In almost every disaster, electricity determines survival, recovery and long-term stability. An earthquake hits or flood waters surge and basic civil infrastructure is disrupted. Hospitals lose electricity. Water treatment systems (if they exist) are rendered inoperable and drinking wells (a more likely scenario) become contaminated. Pumps at gasoline stations are useless making it difficult if not impossible for police, fire and relief workers to deploy effectively. Refrigeration (again, where it exists) stops working. Cities and villages are blacked out heightening security and law enforcement concerns.

Once recovery begins a need often exists to rebuild electric infrastructure virtually from the ground up. An earthquake on the scale of Haiti’s or a flood as massive as Pakistan’s all but wipes the slate clean. Investment to rebuild often leads to an opportunity to correct past mistakes or even rethink how services such as electricity can best be organized and delivered.

During the post-disaster rebuilding phase it may become possible for the first time to extend electric service to places that have never had it. Prof. Frank Clemente of Penn State University gave a well-received keynote speech at Coal-Gen in Pittsburgh last month. During his remarks he said sociologists have found that women and children benefit the most and the fastest when electricity is introduced to previously unserved parts of the world. Health issues are eased, reading levels rise and social responsibility improves through electricity.

As a result, long-term social stability is enhanced wherever electricity is readily available. It’s here that we all can do ourselves a favor by aggressively supporting relief efforts and getting our businesses involved in recovery and reconstruction projects.

News reports from Pakistan tell of a race between extremists and western nations to provide relief services to those affected by the flooding. In no small sense this is a race for the hearts and minds of Pakistanis. Don’t underestimate the political power of a seemingly simple bag of rice that is handed to rural villagers and that carries the words “Gift of the United States” printed alongside the American flag. We all want to defeat extremists in this part of the world and bring our troops home. A way exists to hasten that day.

The electric power generation industry can—no it must—play a front-line role in helping disaster-struck countries recover and rebuild. Everything from emergency gensets to solar panels to wind turbines to full-scale power plants are part of the equation.

Don’t view this as a gift but as an opportunity for your business to grow and perhaps open export markets you hadn’t previously considered. Contact the Agency for International Development to learn more about how your business can become involved. And plan to meet with international business delegations at POWER-GEN International and NUCLEAR POWER International in Orlando this December. Last year more than 20 international delegations visited both shows eager to establish business relationships with companies like yours. The U.S. Department of Commerce offers enormous resources that you are free to tap to help you explore and develop export opportunities.

Taking steps to lend a hand in disaster recovery in places like Haiti, Chile and Pakistan makes business sense. But it’s also morally right and geo-politically wise to become involved. You can make a difference when it comes to easing suffering, promoting global stability and defeating extremism. We have the power to enlighten the world.

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