Last month Thomson Reuters Foundation asked its correspondents what stories they thought would make headlines in 2014.
In response I asked directors at Practical Action to draw up 10 pressing issues they thought would make headlines in 2014. Here is their list. I’d welcome any feedback on the points or any issues that you think should have been included.
- Climate change and economic growth will collide
Our changing climate will bring yet more extreme weather events. The trend started by record cold temperatures in the USA and severe flooding in the UK will continue unabated with more countries affected by climate related disasters like Typhoon Haiyan. By contrast world leaders will continue to ignore the crisis and instead push for universal and sustained economic growth. In 2014 this divergence will become more pronounced with increasing voices starting to question what price we are willing to pay to protect the climate.
- ‘Technology justice’ will come of age
‘Appropriate new technology’ will help lift many more people out of poverty. Until recently in rich countries technology has been something to consume, not to discuss. 2014 will see the role of technology highlighted in global meetings culminating in the United Nations climate change talks in Peru in December. This will help start an important debate about whether we can deliver ‘technology justice’ for the poor.
- Projects not meeting the Millennium Development Goals will struggle to get funding
With the deadline for the MDGs now just over a year away we will see resources directed towards getting as close to the targets as possible. Large scale projects delivering large numbers of beneficiaries will be favoured. Small scale work – even vital work – which does not meet the targets will find it increasingly hard to attract funding.
- Political instability, insecurity and conflicts will continue in Bangladesh and other developing countries
Developing countries will make headlines around the world but again for the wrong reasons. In Bangladesh nearly 60% of the days between October and December 2013 were marked by political strikes, closures, violence and insecurity. These trends will continue in 2014 with many developing countries suffering heavy economic losses and the poorest being the most hard hit.
As more nations become middle income countries, donors will understandably withdraw their financial support and instead focus on the poorest. But there are many poor people who live in middle income countries. In 2014 if more international development organisations withdraw, there will be generations of people who will not escape poverty. Southern national governments will try to step in but how effectively?
- Deaths associated with uncollected urban waste in Africa will rise
In Southern Africa, over 22 million people have no access to a clean water supply and sanitation facilities, especially in urban areas. In urban slums between 30-60 per cent of all the solid waste goes uncollected, a figure which will increase in 2014. As a result many more people will die of associated diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery.
- Mobile technology will help transform the lives of the poor
Mobile phone technology will continue to rapidly change the face of communication in poor countries. By the end of 2014 out of the seven billion people in the world, approximately six billion will have a mobile phone and most will be in developing countries. In response companies, governments and NGOs will use phones to do everything from transferring money to letting people know of an impending disaster using a text alert.
- Renewable energy will struggle to attract the investment it needs
Progress in exploiting shale oil, shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuel sources will erode any incentives the big oil companies have to work on renewables as future alternative revenue streams. At the same time this will tempt governments to focus on short term energy security issues rather than long term environmental sustainability issues such as climate change. In this atmosphere further progress in climate talks or the management of carbon will be very difficult.
- The inter-dependency between food, water and energy will become more pronounced
The need to think about food, water and energy in a holistic manner will become ever more apparent as trade-offs between food and energy crops, agricultural inputs and food prices and the scarcity of water in many parts of the world increase. In developing countries this will result in continuing conflict over resources and globally more environmental refugees seeking a better life.
- More poor people will get energy
The recent focus on energy access issues at an international level will reduce the numbers of people lacking electricity or still cooking over open fires. However, the current over reliance of markets and private sector finance to solve the problem will leave big holes in cover for the rural poor, where returns on investment for much of the needed infrastructure will not be high enough to attract private investment.No Comments » | Add your comment
The world’s largest technology exhibition – The Consumer Electronics Show – opens today in Las Vegas. Over 150.000 people will visit the 3,000 exhibition stands with 100’s of new products launched. Right at this moment 1,000’s of journalists are reporting the latest development which according to The Mirror will be ‘mind-bending new gadgets that are going to change our lives’.
I looked at the photos online – it’s packed with people – mainly men in suits!
It’s incredibly easy to be excited about whizzy technology – by bendy TVs, innovative robots, household monitoring gadgets called Mother (which by the way look scarily similar to the Adipose ‘babies’ on Dr Who), 3D printers and 101 new apps. Not joking – I mean it new tech can be incredibly seductive and I love it.
But in a world where a third of the world’s population has no or only unreliable access to electricity, a third is obese (in part due to sedentary lifestyles encouraged by TV and computer games), 850 million people are hungry, people die due to lack of clean water and/or decent sanitation – are new gadgets going to change lives?
I would love to think so! Shocked you? It is easy to juxtapose the excess of a mega consumer electronics show with poverty – and through the contrast to expose the divided societies we live in. There are huge inequalities in the world and they need to be challenged. I would love to see more research aimed at the things that really matter – meeting the needs of people living in poverty – not enhancing the life styles of people like me who are relatively rich. Do I really need a bendy TV? I certainly don’t need a watch-like device that monitors my exposure to sun – I can just be careful!
On the other hand I am conscious of serendipity, how things can maybe unexpectedly be really helpful to poor people for example the impact of the mobile phone. More people now have access to a mobile phone than a toilet! Phones are used to protect people from landslides, to get the best prices for products, to share knowledge on for example treating illness in livestock, to set up businesses and to keep in touch with family. Sometimes mainstream technologies can have massive impact.
So I’m fighting my temptation to say “the world shouldn’t be like this, let’s do it all differently!” – and instead to these brilliant innovators I want to say think about how your product could really help change the world. How it could improve the lives of people living in poverty. How you, together with Practical Action, could use technology to challenge poverty. Really stretch your minds!
We do need innovation to meet people’s basic needs, to find ways in which poor people can access existing technology, to work in a way that is truly sustainable.
So to anyone at CES – if anyone is listening – I’d say love tech, love people, end poverty and work with Practical Action for Technology Justice.
Imagine a world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used to the benefit of all – that’s our vision – isn’t it truly great!No Comments » | Add your comment
The word “technology” means many things to each of us. Who does not want to use mobiles or the internet to smooth her/his life and get the information required quickly?
As we enjoy this life changing technology in towns, there are poor people in rural areas lacking all of these technological benefits. Those people do not even know about such technologies.
ICT4D (Information Communication Technology for Development) is nowadays established in most western universities because of the important role that ICTs can play in the field of development and humanitarian aid.
Within Practical Action many ICT projects have taken place to benefit of poor communities, such as the energy portal website in Practical Action Peru that allows access to Practical Action offices globally and the transfers knowledge to rural communities. Also the mobile real-time application introduced by Practical Action Kenya that uses smart phones to monitor what is actually happening in the field day by day.
In Practical Action Sudan we contributed to information management software (IWG project) which assists in decision making on programmatic and geographical interventions across the Sudan. The project maps areas in Sudan covered by UN agencies, national and international NGOS, to identify interventions, gaps and facilitate sectoral programming.
In addition Practical Action Sudan with the cooperation of experts and telecommunication companies planned the distribution of agriculture and pastoralism techniques to beneficiaries through mobile phones.
We now have to decide – is it part of the government’s responsibility to handle technology justice and convince the commercial sector to contribute more to enhancing the lives of poor communities? Or is it the responsibility of INGOs to convince governments at a strategic level to play a serious role in benefiting poor communities?
I believe it is the responsibility of every one of us trying to push for technology justice throughout Sudan, especially in the rural areas that deserve better chances and choices of technology.
This will offer the chance of giving a new generation a better way of life.No Comments » | Add your comment
When a fancy new tech toy comes out, we have to have it. Ok, we may resist for a while – telling ourselves that the tech we have is enough. But we inevitably give in.
This year, the hottest tech gadgets on our Christmas wish lists include eReaders, smartphones, games consoles and tablets (you could win a tablet in a Practical Action prize draw…keep reading for details).
But what about the technologies we use every day without giving them a second thought? How many times have you turned on a light and said, “Wow! Electricity is amazing!” Probably never, because we take it for granted. What about watches, phones, aeroplanes, credit cards, the internet or television? How would you fare without them?
While we have access to all this incredible technology that provides us with many of life’s luxuries, people in the developing world don’t have access to technology to meet their most basic needs.
1.6 billion people have no access to electricity, 1.3 billion no access to safe water, 2.6 billion have no adequate sanitation and 1 billion people are undernourished.
“When it rains, the waste flows all over the place. My children step in the filthy water and bring it back into our home.” Helen, Nakuru
Helen and her four children live in a slum in Nakuru where they share two pit toilets with 12 other families. When it rains heavily, the toilets flood and the filth in them floats up. It covers the streets and runs right up to their doorstep.
“It offends me that my children have to come into contact with this. It makes them very ill. They have bowel problems, diarrhoea and they vomit and cough a lot.”
We think it’s an injustice that innovation is aimed at meeting consumer wants instead of humanity’s needs. We think it’s wrong that more money is spent on finding a cure for male baldness than tackling some of the world’s biggest killers like hunger related diseases, diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor sanitation and unsafe water and respiratory diseases caused by the toxic smoke from indoor fires.
Practical Action wants to change this. We’re a charity that uses technology to help some of the world’s poorest people out of poverty. We want technology justice for people like Helen.
Does it make you think?
So to help spread the word, we launched an innovative campaign based on crowdsourcing – asking videographers to create a short video exposing the gap between access to technology in rich countries and the developing world.
We were inundated by entries and after making a short list of six videos we’re now asking the public to vote for their favourite.
Why? Because we want to know what people find compelling – what really ‘makes people think’.
With a better understanding of what people care about, and how they want to hear about it, we can communicate Practical Action’s issues in a better, sharper way.
To thank people for giving us their feedback, we’re giving them the chance to win some ‘high tech’ in the form of an Acer Iconia W3, the world’s first 8-inch Windows tablet donated to the charity by Acer and some video editing software donated by Corel. These will make Christmas presents for some lucky winners!
We hope the videos will make you think…or even better, make you do more than think – make you act. How? By sharing the campaign and donating so we can help more people fight poverty with technology.No Comments » | Add your comment
If you ask someone “what is the role of Technology in Disaster Risk Reduction?” they may scratch their head and look puzzled, but if you ask the more direct question “how can technology alleviate or exacerbate risk?” you can start a much more lively debate. Well that is what happened when I recently challenged a group of post graduate students on the MSc Disaster Management and MSc Emergency Planning and Management courses at Coventry University, to think about how technology can influence risk.
The popularity of these courses is recognition of the increasing levels of risk facing us today. The scale, frequency and severity of natural and man-made disasters have risen progressively, with the key drivers being climate change, depletion and destruction of natural resources and increasing populations living in vulnerable locations. Disasters not only kill and injure people, they also damage infrastructure, reduce productivity and generate social tensions, they consume resources that would otherwise be directed towards productive activities, and they can wipe out years of development in seconds.
Practical Action’s work in the field has highlighted that it is insufficient to focus only on responding to disasters; there is an urgent need to shift to risk reduction in which avoidable risk is eliminated and unavoidable risk is factored into the livelihood choices of local people. There is no doubt that technological advances have increased productivity, income and life expectancy, they have improved quality of life and removed the threat of disasters from our daily lives. Technology such as early warning systems are vital in this transition, as experienced with the 4 day advance warning of the passing of the Atlantic storm by the Met Office in October 2013 as compared to the swath of disaster left in the wake of the unexpected 1987 hurricane. Therefore, it was a great opportunity to work with students at Coventry University to explore the role of technology in the risk equation, to understand how the application of technology can reduce or exacerbate risk, and explore what changes are necessary to deliver the promise of technology justice for the over one billion people who still live in extreme poverty and vulnerability.
The day began with a presentation of Practical Action’s work outlining our achievements in disaster risk reduction. The students were then asked to brainstorm the multitude of hazards facing poor people today. They selected natural disasters such as earthquakes, Tsunami, flooding, drought, extreme storms, landslide, volcanic eruption, wildfire and disease epidemics, as well as human induced disasters such as conflict, war, terrorist attack and chemical spills. The students then broke into five groups and selected one hazard and a key sector to explore in more detail. The five hazards and sectors selected were; flooding and the communications sector, disease and public health, earthquake and public works, wildfire and forestry and war and the health sector. Each group was then asked to identify technologies that are involved in the sector and to explore the potential of the technology to alleviate or exacerbate risk and identify the key players involved.
Looking at the group that studied the health sector in conflicts situation, the group identified a wealth of different technologies involved, including; communications such as targeting of first aid, coordination of search and rescue for the recovery of casualties; food storage and distribution to ensure hospitals are well supplied but also ensuring the front line health staff have adequate supplies; transportation critical for ambulances, medication and food delivery and equipment supply; shelter especially for casualties, but also providing adequate facilities for doctors such as operating rooms; utilities such as water and electricity supply and the need for refrigeration to keep medicines safe. The group also explored the role of protective technologies for healthcare workers such as gas masks and other protective clothing.
The groups were asked to explore the issue of technology justice for their selected hazard. They picked one or two technologies already identified and were asked to explore the drivers and barriers to the development and implementation of technologies in a developing country context. Each day, everyone regardless of where they live is exposed to risk of one form or another. The students quickly realised that the majority of technological solutions reflect the ability to pay and not the priorities on the ground. Thus the majority of disaster risk reduction technologies reflect consumers demand, rather than deliver vital risk reduction to poor people living in vulnerable situations. More work is needed to understand how decision processes can be changed to ensure that the right technology is available at the right place so that when the next hazard strikes it doesn’t become a disaster.
Technology justice in DRR requires the involvement of the poorest and most vulnerable in the development of solutions so that technologies deliver the biggest impacts for the poorest and most vulnerable and are not driven by a profit motive alone. Changing this mindset will be a challenge but one of the first steps must be the realisation that existing technologies applied at the right place could save many thousands of lives each year. Practical Action is uniquely positioned to increase global recognition of the role that technology and innovation play in alleviating and occasionally exacerbating disasters on people’s wellbeing. We must make efforts to demonstrate and advocate for the positive role that technology can play to promote disaster sensitive development; ensure the right technologies are available in the most demanding situations regardless of the cost and reverse technology based development approaches that exacerbate long term vulnerability. Thus technology justice is central to the work of Practical Action as we build a movement, where technology is used for the benefit of all, in a way that is not at the expense of future generations.
All around Colombo are the signs of a city preparing for special guests. But with just a few weeks until the eagerly awaited Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, another very special event took place last week in the grounds of the same venue.Staff from Practical Action, Janathakshan, and partner organisations and networks, were working tirelessly to build a magnificent outdoor exhibition under the banner ‘Green Technology Village’ a celebration of 25 years of Practical Action’s work in Sri Lanka.
As a relative newcomer to Practical Action (very new compared to the many Sri Lanka staff who have decades under their belts!) this was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from the successes, challenges and collective experience of the exhibitors. And I wasn’t the only one. At least 3000 people – professionals, academics, government officials, members of the public and school children – also came to learn about and discuss green technologies and explore the opportunities they present both for their own lives and those of poor communities in Sri Lanka.
We learned about traditional rice varieties – long out of fashion – revived and now marketed to Europe. These earn a price premium (they are both organic and wholegrain after all) and improve nutrition in farmers households, as well as protecting indigenous biodiversity.
We were shown biogas and fertiliser being generated from food waste using affordable technology that is increasingly attractive to city dwellers and businesses looking to reduce energy bills, as well as rural communities without access to electricity. Rising energy prices are just one of the problems shared by people in both the UK and Sri Lanka.
One problem not shared is the challenge of living alongside one of nature’s giants: the elephant. Sri Lanka is smaller than Ireland, but with 3 times the people and 7,000 wild elephants to boot. Drawing on the knowledge of local communities, a low-cost bio-fencing technology is being promoted by Practical Action. Planting huge, long-life, spiky Palmyra trees, in a 5-deep, zig-zag fashion, creates a natural barrier that can replace costly and difficult to maintain electric fences. Not only will this better protect villages and villagers from roaming elephants, but they produce fruit in the dry season too, just when the elephants are searching for scarce food.
All of these examples (and the many more at the Green Technology Village) demonstrate that with the right technologies poor people can transform their lives. And it reminded me that those of us who already enjoy access to transport, energy and other technologies of our choosing, have a duty to be mindful of the impacts of how we use them.
So, my first step to being a greener technology user? Well, now I that have the know-how, perhaps I can cut my food miles and build myself a hydroponic veggie patch in my spare room…1 Comment » | Add your comment
Sunday the 13 October was the International Day for Disaster Reduction 2013. Later that week on Thursday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched its World Disasters Report 2013.
Between these two dates, Asia had a very busy week! Cyclone Phailin devastated the east coast of India (on the 12th), 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook the central Philippines (on the 15th), while Typhoon Wipha hit south-east of Japan (on the 16th).
The latest World Disasters Report explores the roles and impacts of technological innovations on humanitarian actions. Needless to say, ‘humanitarian technologies’ not only help in disaster response, but also in preparedness, prevention, mitigation, recovery and rebuilding efforts. Evacuation of nearly 1 million people from Orissa and Andhra Pradesh (India) before 220-km/h Phailin hit is the recent-most example of saving lives through disseminating early warnings and guiding people to safer places.
IFRC’s new report puts information and communication technology (ICT) at the heart of humanitarian technologies. It draws examples from recent major disasters − from Haiti to Bangladesh − where digital technologies effectively helped humanitarian responses. Successful management of recent calamities in India, the Philippines or Japan may make the similar list in the future.
When Henry Dunant established the International Committee of the Red Cross 150 years back, medical services without antibiotics or anesthesia and trained volunteers were the cutting-edge technologies in humanitarian actions. Although the IFRC took a technology-equals-ICT approach, its 283-page-long report shows that – by using text messages or satellite imagery or social media − we have come a long way since.
In this progressively digitized world, there remain other dimensions and perceptions of disaster-related vulnerabilities and technological solutions. Raising homestead plinth above the ‘last highest flood level’ still remains a crucial technology for a poor family living in the middle of a floodplain. Increasing uncertainty in timing and amount of rainfall in the recent years is making traditional flood preparedness techniques less effective.
IFRC’s latest report admits that discussions on technology in the humanitarian arena apparently do not contain accountability, transparency and efficiency − the key aspects of existing humanitarian governance. This absence is considered as one of the major limitations of humanitarian technologies. This may also make some humanitarian actors and disaster-affected communities being cynic about using new technologies in disaster situation.
This interaction among people, technologies and systems can also be seen from a ‘technology justice’ point of view. ‘Technology justice’ is the right of people to decide, to choose and to use technologies that help them to lead the life they value, but without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same.
Innovation and promotion of humanitarian technologies, therefore, always need to put people in the centre. There should also be a mechanism to receive feedback from the technology users. The technology development system, often led by non-humanitarian actors, should be responsive to these feedbacks to improve the technologies, thus the humanitarian efforts.
The latest IFRC’s World Disasters Report proposes an innovation-evaluation-diffusion cycle for deploying humanitarian technologies. The problems and contexts related to hazards give us the opportunity for technological innovations. But, before going for wider adoption and scaling up, evaluation of these innovations is an important step to pass through. This is expected to minimize the technological risks; and possible tension between traditional humanitarians and ‘tech-savvy’, new humanitarians.
With increasing dominance of technologies in our lives, I echo Kristin Sandvik of the PRIO, are we ready to redefine humanitarian actions and the humanitarians?2 Comments » | Add your comment
Is scientific objectivity morally wrong? In other words is it a cop out?
I’ve just attended a meeting of The Royal Society and the All Parliamentary Group on Climate Change, at which hugely eminent scientists – Professor this and Lord that – presented the findings of the 5th Assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The truth is we’ve heard it all before – and while in scientific circles the evidence has become yet more conclusive: now at 95% for anthropogenic climate change – what it tells us, we already know. The world is warming quickly, rainfall patterns are changing – and the change is probably irreversible. The question is how far we go before we as a world decide to take action?
Talking about Bangladesh, Professor Tim Palmer, professor in climate physics at the University of Oxford, said ‘By any stretch of the imagination this is going to put a major stress on humanity. The impact could be devastating.’
Yet all of the scientists there agreed the need for impartiality – the scientific methodology. Not having opinions beyond the scientific facts.
Lord Oxburgh told a story of going to a meeting a few years ago with 80 ‘captains’ of US industry and how they were turned off from tackling climate change by the scientists’ love of the unknown. The business people wanted to know facts and plan what to do. The scientists wanted to tell them what they needed to explore further. The meeting ended in disarray and no action.
The impact of climate change is close to my heart because I’ve seen how poor communities are already feeling its impact. I’m going to Bangladesh in two weeks, and sitting at the meeting thinking about the people we work with, somehow the impartiality, the studied objectivity seemed wrong. How can we say Bangladesh will be devastated, and not apply moral values to the impact on millions of people? How can we not argue with passion the need for change and start working towards solutions?
I love science, the curiosity and solutions-focus. This studied impartiality is a trend, I understand that it’s in response to the furore that surrounded the last IPCC report and ‘email gate’, but even so in my view, it’s wrong.
Yesterday in the Atlee Suite Lord Oxburgh, referring to the way the IPCC reports are ‘approved’ by government before they are published, dared to use the word appeasement!
It’s probably not a word I’d use – I’d paraphrase Fritz Schumacher and quote Elvis Presley: ‘A little less conversation, a little more action’.
No part of our society is morally neutral – science, for all its stringent processes and methodologies, needs to take a stand. To talk about the future is only useful if it leads to action now.
By the way, the scientists were a hugely impressive and personable bunch. Lord Oxburgh as the Chair was most outspoken and thought provoking. For all my ‘please take a stand’ demands, they are doing a great job and would be brilliant to work with. I just want such brilliant people to engage more.
And finally from Lord Oxburgh: ‘We have to have more articulate, user friendly speakers who are actually selling the product.’ Exactly!
Did you know that access to science is a human right? I didn’t until very recently. With this in mind, how do you think scientists should behave, and should they focus on the problem (now well understood) or the solution?
Or is that a leading question?6 Comments » | Add your comment
This Chair’s Circle visit to Peru is going from one disaster to another.
After seeing how communities prepared for earthquakes in Lima yesterday, we moved to mudslides in the Cusco region where the small, rural town of zurite is facing terrible dangers. Heavy rains have weakened the structure of the hills above. In 2010, a whole chunk of mountain sheared off after a hard deluge, and tore a new river, complete with boulders, through the heart of Zurite. Buildings were damaged beyond repair, and it’s a miracle no-one died.
I climbed up to see Practical Action’s early warning system, installed recently. It’s a perfect combination of simple technology and cutting edge computer design. A video monitors any increase in ground cracks, sensors pick up movement in the soil, and all the data is analysed in situ before being automatically relayed to the town’s environmental department. This means people can be evacuated to safe places in good time when the ground starts to slide down the mountain face towards their homes.
Zurite’s residents won’t be caught unawares again. We are acting now to reduce the loss of life and livelihood when the next heavy rains come, and as I reflect on our visit, tending my achy knees and blistered feet, I think that’s a great use of time, effort, and money.No Comments » | Add your comment
Do you believe that everyone has the right to a decent quality of life, no matter where they live?
At Practical Action we do.
We believe that everyone has the right to technologies that enable them to lead a live they value, as long as that does not harm others now or in the future.
We recently held a competition among our staff to find some of the best images we have illustrating what we are doing to make technology justice a reality in the developing world.
We had some amazing entries, the best of which we have put together in the short Youtube video below. We hope you like them.
If you want to find out more about our work and technology justice please visit our website.
For some great teaching resources which help students and look at their own needs and wants in relation to technology, and explore their feelings around technology justice please look at our schools material. They include a top trumps style activity where technologies are given a technology justice rating.No Comments » | Add your comment