Why is technology justice central to international development?
As history demonstrates, technology provides a catalyst for change. Practical Action has been working on flood Early Warning Systems (EWS) for over ten years and we have seen not only technology adoption taking place but also social change occurring.
At the Technology for Development conference the focus is very much on the former, but in my active participation and interaction with the conference delegates I am interested to explore the latter.
Looking beyond the hardware
Practical Action’s experience of developing EWS, demonstrates the benefit that new technologies can have on development. However, although technology may provide a jump in capability, understanding the nature of the change is vital if these developments are to be maintained. We need to understand the causal factors in adoption and what are the threats to this progress being maintained?
EWS appear to have a transformational impact on the communities that they reach, although this transformation doesn’t take place immediately in synchrony with the delivery of the technology, there is a time lag between the rollout of the technology and the social change needed to embed the EWS into people’s lives.
For EWSs the following greatly simplified process takes place:
- Phase one – No EWS, the community lives at high risk, they may implement a basic observation based systems and flee at the onset of each flood event, but losses accumulate as population density and climate change impacts progress;
- Phase two – EWS arrives but trust is not yet built so impact on behaviours is limited. Critical is the provision of reliable warning combined with the delivery of actionable warning that people can understand and follow;
- Phase three – community members begin to trust the EWS system, they begin to rely on it as rainfall events, this starts to adjust behaviours, rather than fleeing when the warning is announced they prepare for the evacuation, and in the process they start to learn about what preparedness actions are the most beneficial;
- Phase four – communities begin learning about hazard profiles, and that no floods are the same, they start to recognise critical impacts and trends in the hazard event, this learning leads to adaptations in their lives and livelihoods to limit loss and damage.
At the Technology for Development conference we are hearing a lot about the success of the technology systems, but less about the impacts these systems have on people’s lives. People almost seem to be passive beneficiaries rather than components in the system.
As we have learned, the EWS must become integrated into people’s lives. This will enable people living in flood prone areas to be empowered and informed to live with the risks they face.
Looking at the roll out of EWSs, and how this is being reported in the key global agreement, we find a similar disconnect. Reporting for global agreements is too focussed on the technology roll out and not on the impact the technology has on avoided losses. Most systems are focussed too heavily on the monitoring and warning components and most systems are failing to reach the poorest and most hazard prone.
Investment in technology is vital if we are to deliver on the SDG’s, to put the Sendai framework for DRR into practice and to meet the global obligations under the Paris Agreement and hence avoid the disaster of climate induced change. Central to delivery under the Paris Agreement is the need for a financing mechanism under the Loss and Damage mechanism to ensure investment to put in place to ensure avoidable losses are maximised.
EWS are vital transformational mechanisms, not as simple silver bullets but as catalysts for behavioural change. It’s not just the hardware but the orgware and software that also requires investment, time and patience, and the system must be owned and for the communities to ensure these benefits are delivered.
Find out more
- Find more of Practical Action’s work as part of the Flood Resilience Alliance on the Flood Resilience Portal
- Discover a Practical Action flood early warning system for yourself in this 360 video from Chosica, Peru
- Or read more about Practical Action’s participation at the Technology for Development conference, including more work on flood resilience plus WASH and energy projects