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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

A Situation Unfiltered

Nabilah Deen

Eddy is one of four managers working with a nonprofit mechanical engineering firm that aims to develop sustainable mechanized systems for third world countries. The firm funds numerous small projects, and usually aims to utilize the community’s local resources to create the project design deliverables.

However, Eddy recently got contacted by a member of a Bolivian community the firm had worked with a few years ago. The design team had invented an inexpensive filtration mechanism that helped the community find a healthy source of water. The project had been a success when delivered to the community, but the community member remarked that the filters had broken down a while ago. The community hadn’t been able to restore all the filtration systems, as the cost to fix the filters proved to be too expensive. During this time, the community had gone back to their old practice of drinking unfiltered water.

Eddy is unsure what the firm can do for the community, though he feels the firm should have done more to ensure that the filters were properly maintained. The responsibility for maintaining the filters had been on the community members they had trained, but it looks like they were lax in their maintenance.

To what degree is the firm responsible for the after effects of their filtration installation? Was the benefit worth the eventual cost of replacing all the filters, especially since half the community now doubted the efficiency of the filters?

Nabilah Deen was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

August 2015

Aug 26, 2015