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Letters to the editor

Third World crisis

Oh dear, the Telford Challenge (Letters last week) could run and run (a bit like poverty really). As a returned development worker who attended some recent ADP meetings at the ICE, I would like to add a few comments to the debate.

Just to give some credentials, I have been involved in engineering activities in the third world for over a quarter of a century. Over the last 10 years I ran a programme for the International Labour Organisation that trained hundreds of engineers and technicians, built thousands of kilometres of rural roads, and created tens of thousands of job opportunities for the rural and urban poor.

OK, the essence of Department for International Development policy is that we target the poor. We have a Government that has finally realised there is more to development than creating trade opportunities. A quarter of the world's population lives in extreme grinding poverty, and we have to lift them out of this condition. DFID's stated approach will be 'people centred, community focused project orientation'.

That is finding out why people are in the condition they are in, and helping them to improve the situation.

If we are talking about the dispossessed and the disenfranchised, this is not an easy thing for engineers to do. Sure we talk to government departments, international agencies etc, but do we ever get involved with the poor themselves? If you consider how remote some of us are from the so called underclass in our own country, it is difficult to imagine that we understand the real priority needs of people living in urban squatter settlements in Nairobi, or a deserted mother of a young family in rural Bangladesh. How do we as a technical profession get involved with these problems - because that is the essence of the Telford Challenge?

Health and education development projects always have a good impact. Professionals in those areas are used to dealing with their target groups and seeing good results. But can we be sure that our years of building big major highways, modern sewerage disposal systems, and big dams have actually had any effect on the poor? I have yet to see an informal settlement that can afford to connect to a large bore sewerage system (at least not legally).

If the Institution is to rise to the Telford Challenge it has to get involved in these issues, and it will not be easy. For a start, not many of us even have the relevant experience. Finding staff to build a metro system for an Asian Tiger economy (and they still have plenty of poor people) is a lot easier than finding a team to plan and upgrade an informal settlement through community contracts, or determine the access needs of a remote Tanzanian district.

I was not at the inauguration of the Telford Challenge. I was in Cambodia being amazed at the dynamism of people determined to emerge from the disaster of 30 years of war (most of it visited on them through the ingenuity of first world scientists and technicians). However, I am aware that the disquiet of the ADP was that the need for a radical shift in thinking from our institutions had not been fully realised. I do not think any sour grapes or ego issues were involved. I do know that they did come up with a proposal for trying to focus more closely on poverty issues, but this could not be incorporated because of time restraints.

My hope is that the steering committee will be humble enough to acknowledge the huge gap between our understanding of the problem, and the real needs for intervention to eliminate poverty. We are not talking about charity handouts, or off the shelf high-tech solutions, and we must avoid dogmatic and overbearing attitudes. We need approaches that will encourage research and participation with the target communities. We can then better understand how the profession, with all its intellectual strengths, practical experience and proven enthusiasm, can get involved.

Some of the best recent examples that come to mind are the work of Water Aid and RedR. Both these organisations work on the basis of giving their 'experts' the opportunity to get out there and work with people. The solutions they come up with are ones that work in the real world of the poor, and I think that everybody who has worked for those organisations will agree they have also benefited enormously in their professional growth.

David Stiedl (M), Engineering for Development, 12 Thorne Passage, Barnes, London SW13 0PA.

What failed first?

Congratulations on a clear, swift and comprehensive description of the Eschede disaster (NCE last week).

As a civil engineer specialising in the 'load factor' theory and design the principal question remains unanswered: at the bridge's failure, what gave in first: the concrete, the reinforcing steel or the two together?

From the pictures published on pages 3 and 4 this could not be ascertained. Pictures of a broken column or beam section would be welcome.

John Cais, Sumfield & Day, Station Street, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4RQ.

A claim too far

I recently read your Article 'A 30 metre bridge in 30 minutes' (NCE 14 May) and must confess to being somewhat disappointed that a well respected magazine should publish such inaccuracies in its comparison between Br90 general support bridge and medium girder bridge.

The original design criteria for MBG called for a 31m (100ft) double storey bridge to be constructed by an NCO with 24 men in under one hour. This was regularly achieved during acceptance trials, the fastest time recorded being 46 minutes. This time has been beaten many times, indeed my personal best, while serving in the Royal Engineers, was 40 minutes; however, I understand that a unit from the TAVR in County Durham set a record of 29 minutes for a 31m bridge which still stands.

Figures quoted for building times achieved in trials and demonstrations are often misleading because they are achieved by men constantly involved in construction of the equipment. The Royal Engineers, bearing in mind that the equipment would be erected only from time to time, and often with some members of the team inexperienced in handling the bridge, established 60 minutes as the realistic build time for a 31m double storey MGB.

We understand the planning time for a 31m Br90 GSB constructed using ABLE is around 40 minutes.

From the figures above, established by the British Army, it is obvious your statements that time and manpower savings from Br90 over MGB are 'spectacular' and that 'a team of 30 needed to assemble an equivalent MGB would be a quarter of the way through their task when the 10 sappers manipulating ABLE had completed their task' are patently not valid. Given the same levels of training/practice and realistic site conditions, timings are much more competitive.

Mechanical bridges, such as Br90, can be an important addition to the inventories of modern armies, their chief attribute being reduced manpower to meet ever dwindling force levels. However, it must be recognised that medium girder bridge has evolved into a total bridging system covering the whole range of military and civil emergency operations. It can be built as a single span, multi-span, floating bridge or ferry, to carry loads up to MLC 70(T) and 100(W). It is fast and simple to construct, lightweight and can be rapidly deployed by land, sea and air in support of conventional forces as well as amphibious and air mobile formations.

DM Shearman, Williams Fairey Engineering, PO Box 41, Crossley Road, Heaton Chapel, Stockport, Cheshire SK4 5BD.

View from the top

'Raising the roof' (NCE 4 June) gave a brief description of the central roof vents package which forms the dome cap at Greenwich. The article referred to 'conceptual design by Buro Happold'.

As the package leader for Buro Happold for the central roof vents, I would like to set the record straight. Buro Happold Facade Engineering carried out the conceptual and detailed designs for this package. We undertook analyses and design and provided a complete and comprehensive set of drawings which was strictly adhered to by the package contractor.

The design was sufficiently detailed to allow the successful package contractor to complete its shop drawings of this highly complex piece of work and start trial extrusions of the primary structural elements within 10 days of the order being placed.

Stephen Tanno (M), Buro Happold, 41-43 Praed Street, London W2 1NR.

The Editor welcomes letters at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4QX

fax: (0171) 505 6667 e-mail:

and reserves the right to condense.

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