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The prestigious award, handed out by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design of Montreal, recognizes the very best in industrial design that aims to dramatically change, even save, lives. Earlier this week the three finalists were announced, and we were blown away by them all. On February 28, the winner of the second biennial World Design Impact Prize will be announced in Cape Town, Africa. Which one would you award top prize?

1 BioLite HomeStove

This user-friendly stove, designed by Jonathan Cedar for BioLite, is designed for developing regions where carbon monoxide poisoning due to indoor cooking is one of the leading causes of countless deaths. The portable stove uses a forced draft biomass cookstove and thermoelectric fan to reduce smoke levels by up to 90 per cent, and it eliminates up to 2.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per unit per year. It also doubles as a generator for charging mobile phones, LED fixtures, and other USB-powered electronics.

To get the stove into the hands of those who need it, BioLite has devised a two-tier system, with retail outlets selling the stoves for $40 in the city; and a distribution network that includes government and humanitarian relief programs making them available throughout rural areas in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. The objective is have 5.5 million units in use by 2020, a tally that would improve and extend millions of lives as well as help clean the planet.

2 ABC Syringe

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.3 million people die each year from using unsterilized syringes and unsafe injection practices. The standard now is to use disposable syringes that arrive at hospitals and clinics individually wrapped. But once the wrapper is removed, it is impossible to tell whether the needle has been used. This is where ABC syringes comes in. Developed by Dr. David Swann at the University of Huddersfield, U.K., the ABC Syringe turns red once exposed to carbon dioxide, creating a clear sign it is no longer clean.

The initiative works on the principal of changing behavioural patterns. As red is universally connected to danger, even children perceive the crimson hue as a potential risk. Swann and his team have tested their theory on the streets of Mumbai by showing participants a clear syringe and a red one, and asking them to point to the one that looks dangerous. The team tabulated a 100 per cent accuracy response rate, even from children who use basic deductive reasoning to point to the correct tube. The design is now in the midst of clearing patent licences, while the design team works to establish a global manufacturing and distribution system.

3 Refugee Housing Unit (RHU)

RHUs are a longer-lasting alternative to the tents currently used in refugee camps, which typically last just six months, even though many refugees remain in camps for upwards of 12 years. Not only does their long-term displacement leave families vulnerable, it also presents a financial and logistical burden on aid agencies and governments helping them establish a more dignified life.

Conceived by Sweden’s Johann Karlsson, and facilitated by the IKEA Foundation in coordination with the UN Refugee Agency, the first RHU prototypes are now being tested in Ethiopia. The pitched-roof design addresses a number of basic living requirements, as it provides better insulation against heat, cold, wind and sand, and integrates lighting and energy via a solar panel system.

Each unit ships flat-packed in a box that two people can carry; they can snap together its components – connectors, pipes, wires and light-weight roof panels – without tools. The outer shell is embedded with solar panels and small operable windows that allow for better air flow and ventilation.

In a video on the project, Karlsson notes the units can last for up to three years, which still falls short of the average stay for many displaced families. Also, the unit’s estimated market price of $1,000 represents a high upfront cost. However, the extended life of the unit will mean the current handling expenditures will drop by 67 per cent in the long run. But, more importantly, RHU offers vulnerable families a much greater sense of home and safety.

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