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Lahore Brigade Working To Solve Civic Problems

The first meetup of the Lahore Brigade members took place on Sunday, 23 February, in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The brigade consists of civic hackers – software developers, designers, urban mappers who will be working to solve civic problems in Pakistan. Code for Pakistan and Technology for People Initiative partnered to launch the Lahore Brigade.

Code For Pakistan blog reports:

All the attendees introduced themselves and also proposed potential solutions to civic problems, pertaining to the areas of health, transportation, education, and governance. Some of the participants expressed interest in some of the projects that had been created at the Lahore Civic Hackathon. The ideas were all captured, followed by a rigorous discussion of them. A couple of Brigade Project Mentors were also present and they, like everyone else, expressed their interest in certain ideas. 6 promising project ideas or areas were agreed upon by the group.

Here is a collection of Tweets on the first meetup. According to the Appjuice, the group will be meeting every two weeks.

One Nepalese Doctor's Hunger Strike Wins Action From Officials

After an assurance that Prof Dr Prakash Sayami would be reinstated as the dean of Institute of Medicine following Dr Shashi Sharma's dismissal, senior orthopaedic surgeon Prof Dr Govinda KC is ending his 3rd hunger strike in Kathmandu. Image by Narayan Maharjan. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2014)

After an assurance that Dr. Prakash Sayami would be reinstated as the dean of Institute of Medicine following Dr. Shashi Sharma's dismissal, senior orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Govinda KC is ending his third hunger strike in Kathmandu. Image by Narayan Maharjan. Copyright Demotix (24/1/2014)

Dr. Govinda KC, a senior orthopedic surgeon of Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Nepal who has earned the nickname Crusader KC, ended his fourth fast-unto-death [ne] on 15 February 2014. Dr. KC, who was fighting to end political interference in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in Nepal, has once again proven that victory can be won without resorting to violence.

The doctor had only ended his third hunger strike for the same reasons on 25 January after officials had assured him they would meet his demands, but he resumed the strike in early February, accusing them of dragging their feet.

He had been demanding to appoint a new dean at the Institute of Medicine (IoM) on the basis of seniority, stop granting affiliation to medical colleges in urban areas, autonomy for IoM and action against Tribhuvan University (TU) vice-chancellor, rector and registrar, who according to him were corrupt and influenced by “medical mafia”.

Medical students taking care of Dr KC during the fast offered juice to him to end the latest eight-day strike, online portal Onlinekhabar reports. An agreement was signed among Dr. KC, the education secretary and the newly appointed Dean of the Institute of Medicine (IoM) Dr. Rakesh Prasad Srivastav, according to The Himalayan Times.

Dr. Sudhamshu KC, a liver specialist, researcher and traveler from Kathmandu, tweeted:

Very happy to know that Dr. KC ended the fast. But the pest of TU [Tribhuvan University] is still to be killed. May the new council of ministers use effective pesticide.

Dr. KC enjoyed widespread support from the public during all of his four fasts-unto-death in 2010, August 2012, January 2014 and February 2014.

One of his fans, Manohar, a graduate of life science and biotechnology, tweeted:

Hey,
Those who say you will eat when it falls,
Those who say you will eat when it dies,
KC won’t feel tired
KC won’t retire
Your palace of black property will surely burn down
KC’s dreams will never burn down.

Popular Nepali blog Mysansar [ne] wrote about the doctor's heroics quoting an earlier write-up on him by journalist Surendra Paudel of Nagarik Daily, who has covered the KC extensively:

It’s been 17 years, he packs his bags with medicines and sets off for the remote villages in Nepal, at least twice a year. He has been to the mountains, hills and terai, to serve his countrymen, free of charge. He has served the needy of 72 districts out of the 75 districts in Nepal. And his journey is continuing.

He has not only served Nepalis but has been a helping hand to the survivors of major catastrophes in recent times. He was in Bangladesh after the devastating cyclone in 1993, in India’s Gujarat after the major earthquake, in Pakistan after the earthquake in 2005, in Myanmar in 2008 after the cyclone, and in Haiti after the disastrous earthquake in 2010. He spent several weeks in these countries treating the survivors.

While he treats, distributes medicines, he doesn’t charge anything. He does not accept donation from organisations. It’s his own hard-earned money that he spends in cure of the needy.

Screenshot from the Facebook page

Screenshot from the Facebook page “Save IOM, Save Dr. Govinda K C”

Dipak Bhattarai discussed on his blog an anecdote shared on his Facebook by Paudel:

Just after resigning from the premiership, the Maoist supremo Prachanda aka Pushpa Kamal Dahal had invited Dr KC for his health check-up. Dr KC rejected the request and said that he has never gone to anybody’s residence for the check-up due to his busy schedule treating the poor and needy at the hospital. The messenger had to give in to Dr KC’s principles. He also had to abide by the rules. Prachanda had to come to the hospital and wait in queue for the check-up. And he had to do away with his entourage of bodyguards, as suggested by Dr KC only three of them came to the hospital.

While many Nepalese were supportive of his strike, some were irritated by his fourth fast.

Jigyasu Mahesh tweeted:

Dr KC’s ways of not letting work amplifies the politics. [They are] collapsing the system.

Ramen Adhikari wrote.

To which Milan Bagale replied:

Hope the mafia loses the battle. From the deepest of my heart. Victory be with us.

With Dr KC’s ending of the fast, the medical fraternity hopes that this will mark the end of the rule of medical mafia and political interference at the IoM in Nepal.

Encouraging innovation in development organizations

Our February 6th Technology Salon in New York City focused on the organizational challenges that development organizations face when trying to innovate or integrate ICTs into their programs and operations. We looked at the idea of “innovation” and different ways to approach it. We asked what “innovation” really means and why “technology” and “innovation” seem to always be used interchangeably. We shared ideas, challenges and good practice around supporting and encouraging staff, managers, and donors to experiment with new and better ways of doing things.

A huge thank you to Somto Fab-Ukozor and Rachana Kumar for their collaboration on writing the summary below!

Mika

Mika Valitalo, Plan Finland. (Photo by Somto Fab-Ukozor)

Our lead discussants were Jessica Heinzelman, DAI’s senior ICT specialist; Chris Fabian, UNICEF’s advisor to the Executive Director on innovation and co-lead of UNICEF’s innovation lab; and Mika Valitalo, Plan Finland’s program manager for ICT4D.

What is innovation?

Different organizations bring in different ideas and definitions of innovation. Is innovation always synonymous with technology? Does it always require technology? For some organizations, “innovation” means doing things faster, better and differently in a way that adds value and has a concrete impact.

One discussant noted that innovation is not necessarily disruptive in nature; it can be categorized into 3 main forms:

  • a totally new context, new problem, new solution
  •  an existing solution that is improved
  •  an existing solution that is adapted to a new context, country or sector

Another lead discussant pointed out that innovation is not necessarily something brand new; it can be something that existed but that is used in a different way or simply different processes or ways of thinking, and innovation does not have to be technology. The concept of innovation is often misunderstood, he said, because “someone can come up with 10 crappy ideas that are new but that does not make them innovative or useful.” He also cautioned that innovation should not only be about replication and scale, yet donors sometimes decide that an idea is innovative and encourage organizations to replicate the idea, without ensuring that it is having a real or relevant impact across different local contexts.

One discussant disagreed and said that there’s no innovation without technology; for example, 60% of kids are stunting in one of the greenest areas in the world because of lack to electrical grid; the provision of electricity is technology. Without the electrical grid, the country will never reach any of its developmental goals. Technology enables the work to happen. A different viewpoint, as another discussant explained, was that the application of the technology is the innovative part, not the technology itself.

What fuels innovation?

A key part of the Salon discussion focused on whether having dedicated resources fueled innovation, or whether the presence of challenges and constraints forces innovation. Some Salon participants felt that when people are faced with challenges such as less time, fewer resources, no office space, etc., they may find themselves being more innovative in order to overcome constraints. Others found that staff often use the excuse of not having time and resources as a reason for not innovating or thinking outside the box. Some felt that innovation is difficult to achieve within large bureaucratic institutions due to their risk averse cultures, whereas others felt that one of the benefits of large-scale organizations is having resources to innovate and then test and scale innovations. Participants did agree that regardless of the outside setting, some people are more inclined to be innovative – these people are easy to identify almost everywhere, as they are always coming up with new ideas and trying/testing things out. The key is to find a way for organizational structures to support and reward innovators.

Encouraging innovation within large development organizations

Different organizations approach the innovation question in different ways. One discussant said that at his organization, the innovation team spends 60% of its time working on problems the organization is facing at the moment; 20% of its time looking towards the future (a 3-5 year horizon) for ideas that have an immediate direct impact on its work; and 20% of its time on organizational redesign, in other words, how to work with users to create solutions that are not top down and that take advantage of the existing ecosystem. His innovations team is only interested in finding/creating innovations that could reach very large scale, such as 10,000,000 people or more.

The innovation team created some guideline for staff and allies with tips on how to defend one’s existence as someone working on innovation.  The guide addresses questions like: Why innovation?  Is it valuable to have an innovation unit? If so, why? If so and why, then prove it. Working on these questions led the innovation unit to develop metrics for innovation to justify staff positions focused on innovation. These guidelines can help people at other organizations who are trying something new to have a reference point; they allow innovation teams to say “such-and-such organization is doing this, so we can do it too.”

Metrics for innovation

Having a set of metrics can help innovation labs, teams or persons charged with organizational innovation to measure whether they are actually achieving their goals, too. One organization defined the following metrics:

  • permission to fail or fail cheaply without fear
  • working with heterogeneous groups
  •  sharing knowledge across countries and contexts

Working across organizational boundaries without “soul crushing bureaucracy” and having the real ability to work horizontally is one key to achieving these metrics.

Decentralizing the innovation function

Another lead discussant described the institutional changes and underlying understanding of people need to improve and support innovation:

  • Identify the real incentives that someone has – individual or project – and the disincentives to innovating. It is important to look underneath the excuses people come up with such as time constraint and additional work, and find out what is driving them.
  • Hire realistic optimists – Sometimes in the ICT4D space, people gloss over the challenges and promote the technology. It is important to hire people who are grounded and have a good analytical sense, and who can think beyond gadgets and hype.
  • Building and sharing expertise within the organization – Creating a champions group of mid-to entry-level professionals within the organization, who understand the power that new technology has, is another way to make innovation and ICT4D spread. Rather than keep the expertise isolated within a specialist unit, finding younger people who are hungry for knowledge and who see this kind of work as a way to help further their career and set themselves apart from their colleagues can help. Then the “innovation team” can provide them with support and guidance. Participatory workshops on new tools and approaches can be organized where these innovation champions are tasked to research and explore something and then present it. Equipped with tools and trainings, they will be able to better identify opportunities for innovation.
  • Getting innovation into the plan early and working with those who are putting proposals and RFPs together to make sure that it is part of the metrics being measured from the beginning. It’s hard to add new elements into the program later because people will perceive it as additional work.

One Salon participant said that her organization disconnected “innovation” from its other programs so that space for trying new things would be made, and the fear of failing would be reduced or “offloaded” to the innovation team. In this case, the unit is funded through private sources which support it to experiment. It still has to struggle for its existence and show the impact and value of either failure or success.

Ideas for taking innovation and ICT4D forward

Some ideas for moving ahead included:

  1. Flexibility in program planning- In reality, most times during program implementation the plan changes and we have to figure out how to cope with it. The solution lies in the ability to quietly promote innovation and to influence donor organizations to embrace more flexible implementation.
  2. Integrating User-Centered-Design – Ethnographic research can help to better understand how people use technology locally and what its meaning is. It also helps identify existing patterns and ways of doing things that could be enhanced or shared with other communities if they are working well. Agile methodology from the software world can be pulled into development programs in order to end the top-down approach of solving problems from afar and having everything cooked up from the start. Rather focusing on on small iterations and the impact of the deliverables can be a better approach.
  3. Collaboration with Universities – Universities can be great places for working on and trying out  new ideas. Links with universities can be used as ways to find solutions, but even moreso to “change the proteins” inside of a traditional organization.  Collaboration among staff and students provides opportunities for staff to learn how to think about things differently and for students to understand real-world challenges in development agencies.
  4. Bridging the gap – Involving educators, health experts, child protection specialists and others who are not very interested in gadgets can bring about strong understanding of the real needs. Then connecting them with “techies” and ICTs in plain language and asking them to relate their own use of tech (they probably all use mobile phones in their personal lives, for example) to the ways that community members use tech can help to bring about solid, practical, sustainable and locally driven solutions.
  5. Provide a safe environment – Many humans are innovative by nature, said one discussant. Hierarchies and organizational processes are often what prevent people from doing new things. Giving feedback and psychological support can help those who are innovative to flourish within a difficult environment.
  6. The interdisciplinary approach – One Salon participant said that his organization had started to work with some senior staff to think and structure data in a way that would help them understand their challenges and programs better in order to innovate. This makes people more comfortable, and working across different teams with a variety of people and skill sets can help new ideas and solutions to bubble up.
  7. Information intermediaries – Infomediaries working at various levels can help connect people with technology, conduct training, and ensure that staff can acquire skills to use the technology themselves and in programs.
  8. Open source – Making project documents, budgets, concepts, “open” online can make them more accessible and  help  enable sustainable projects and prevent issues and costs associated with proprietary tools, applications and content.
  9. Younger management – There’s an age differential between the people who lead most large organizations and large-scale projects and those who are more interested in technology. One participant suggested it would be important to get younger people into positions where they can make contributions of ideas and decisions without being blocked by higher level people that may be “past their innovation prime.” Another solution may be to hire more experienced people but to ensure that they are open to working with  younger people who bring in new ideas. (Some Salon participants, however, felt that age has nothing to do with innovation, and that it is more related to personality types and organizational environments).

For  additional resources on the Salon topic, look here – and add your resources as well.

Salons are held under Chatham House Rule, therefore no attribution has been made in this post. Many thanks to our lead discussants and to ThoughtWorks for hosting and providing breakfast.

If you’d like to attend future Salons, sign up here!


International Open Data Day Set for February 22

Bloggers, hackers, designers, statisticians and other citizens who are interested in Open Data and Transparency will gather online and offline for the International Open Data Day on February 22, 2014. The event takes place to encourage governmental data openness.

Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption open data policies by the world's local, regional and national governments.

Anyone can organize a local event in their city as long as the event is open for others to join. The attendees can participate in creating anything related to Open Data, be it with local or global applications, visualizations, scraping data from a government website to make it available for others or even organize a series of workshops with government officials, journalists or other stakeholders affected by open data.

The hashtag that will be used for the even is, #ODD2014. Some Twitter users have already started posting their comments on the hashtag.

Dozens of cities are participating in the hackathon.

International Open Data Hackathon

International Open Data Hackathon

Announcements are also made on Twitter for local events in different places.

The Open Data Day in Egypt, http://t.co/PdqDzokxcP

Add your city to the list if it is not already there, and start planning for a local event there.

Tanqeed's Bi-Weekly List of Recommended Readings On Pakistan

Tanqeed, a quarterly magazine on politics and culture on Tumblr, is an experiment in critical reflection on Pakistan. It is a blogzine, a scrapbook and a reporters’ notebook. This year, Tanqeed is accepting recommendations of lectures, essays, articles, videos on a range of subjects including politics, culture and society from Pakistan and beyond and plans to publish them bi-weekly.

India's Solar Vision Promises Clean Energy And Happy Farmers

Solar array pattern captured at Auroville, Pondicherry, India. Image from Flickr by Amaresh Sundaram Kuppuswamy. CC BY

Array of solar panels at Auroville, Pondicherry, India. Image from Flickr by Amaresh Sundaram Kuppuswamy. CC BY-NC-SA

Around 628 million people around the world do not have access to electricity and 290 million of them are from rural India. Many Indian farmers have to rely on archaic power grids and fossil fuels to run water pumps for their irrigation.

The Indian government is aiming to replace 26 million diesel-powered groundwater pumps with more efficient solar-powered irrigation models. This will save about six billion US dollars a year in electricity and diesel subsidies for the country. This will also help tackle the rising demand for coal as two-thirds of the country's electricity is generated by coal. Additionally crowd-sourcing of unused solar power will also add a lot of energy to the national grid.

India nearly doubled its solar capacity in 2013 to a cumulative 2.18 gigawatts of power. The country plans to install 10 GW of solar plants by 2017 and 20 GW by 2022, according to the the second phase of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), India’s flagship solar policy. India is also considering to apply to the World Bank for a 500-million-US-dollar solar loan to build the world's largest solar power plant (4GW) in Sambhar in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

Yadav K writes in Indian Public Sector blog details about the 4GW power plant in Sambhar:

The project will spread across 19,000 acres at Sambhar in Rajasthan and will entail an investment of Rs 7,500 crore in the first phase. [..] The solar PV (photo-voltaic) power plant will use PV modules based on crystalline silicon technology and with an estimated life of 25 years, the solar plant can supply 6,400 million units of energy per year. It eco-friendly project will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 4 million tonnes per year.

Katie Fehrenbacher writes in technology blog Gigaom:

As more devices become connected to networks and the Internet — here comes the Internet of Things — more and more of them will seek to have their own power source, and currently solar power is one of the cheapest and most mobile forms of distributed energy available. [..]

If India does reach these numbers of solar-powered water pumps, it would be the largest deployment of this technology in a single country. Reducing the grid electricity usage, and the use of expensive diesel, will not only lower carbon emissions, but it could also help the power grid operators better run their networks and reduce the power costs for the farmers.

Here are more reactions on Twitter:

However, the rapid development requires industrial production of Solar plants which may create new bio-hazard:

Blogger & Solar Energy expert Ritesh Pothan thinks that there are a number of issues that must be resolved if 2014 is to see India make any progress towards its solar ambitions.

More info on India's solar developments can be found in Renewable Energy India and Solar Power India Facebook pages.

Tech Salon Summary: children, youth, migration and ICT

Migration is central to the current political debate as well as to the development discussion, especially in conversations about the “post 2015” agenda, the ‘youth bulge’, and youth employment. Prevention work is not likely to end migration, regardless of the organizations and governments working to improve the well-being of children and youth in their home communities. In fact, improved economic capacity may actually enhance people’s capacity to migrate.

Our Technology Salon on January 16, 2014, discussed the role of ICTs in child and youth migration, ways ICTs are influencing migration, how ICTs could make migration safer and more productive, and ideas for mobile applications that would be useful for child and youth migrants. We welcomed Ravi Karkara, United Nations Inter-agency Network on Youth Development; Lucas Codognolla, Lead Coordinator, Connecticut Students for a DREAM; and Michael Boampong, Migration and Development Consultant, UNDP, as our lead discussants.

Some areas on where and how ICTs are playing or could play a role:

  • Sending money / remittances / mobile money. Costs to transfer money need to be reduced. Some studies have shown that the African diaspora pays up to 20% for money transfers. More needs to be done to extend mobile money services, especially in rural areas.
  • Finding a job. Many youth use ICTs from the very start of the migration process to look for work. They may also use ICTs to find work in their home countries if they return.
  • Getting a visa to migrate legally. Most legal immigration processes require making appointments with Embassies via the Internet and the ability to communicate via email.
  • Identifying migration routes. Often, youth who migrate irregularly investigate routes online before their departure. GPS can also help during transit. One program in Mexico is developing a “safe migration map” that provides crowd-sourced, near real-time information to migrants on which areas are experiencing high crime or other dangers so that they can migrate more safely.
  • Reporting abuse. Child help lines are expanding their services across many countries and providing support, advice and help to children in case of emergency or abuse, including during migration. Many help lines are experimenting with text messaging.
  • Connecting with other youth in similar situations.  Youth who have an irregular migration status are able to find others in the same circumstances and feel less alone. They can also connect with peers and organizations who can provide support, help and advice.
  • Keeping in touch with parents/family. ICT are useful for children and youth keep families informed of how they are doing, and to ask for support and help. The African Movement for Working Children and Youth works with telecoms operators to provide a free number to children and youth who migrate in West Africa. Parents and children can remain in touch that way while children are moving from one town to the next.
  • Sharing information on migration rights. Organizations like Connecticut Students for a DREAM use ICTs and social media to reach out to youth who have an irregular migration status to provide support and to engage them in organized advocacy activities. The organization encourages sharing of stories and a safe space to discuss migration difficulties. The “Pocket DACA” application helps young migrants understand the deferred action law and apply for it.
  • Engaging, organizing, and influencing government. Youth in the US are organizing via Facebook and other social media platforms. In some cases, government officials have reached out to these groups for advice on legislation.

Participants pointed out that:

Children/youth are not always victims. Often the discourse around children’s movement/migration is centered on trafficking, protection and vulnerability rather than rights, power and choices. More needs to be done to empower children and youth and to provide opportunities and participation avenues. At the same time, more needs to be done to create opportunities at home so that children and youth do not feel like their home situation is hopeless and that migration is the only option.

Children and youth are not a homogeneous population. When thinking about ICTs and children/youth, it’s important to know the context and design programs that are relevant to specific children and young people. Age, wealth, sex, literacy and other aspects need to be considered so that ICT applications are useful. Both traditional communication and ICTs need to be used depending on the population.

ICTs can widen generation gaps. In some cases, ICTs increase the communication divide among generations. Older people may feel that youth are working in a medium that they are not skilled at using, and that youth are not considering their input and advice. This can create conflict and reduce levels of support that might otherwise be provided from community leaders, elders and government officials.

The role of the State needs more thought. Often irregular migration happens because legal channels are difficult to navigate or they are prohibitive. The role of ICTs in influencing or facilitating legal migration needs more thought, as does the potential role of ICTs in advocating for change. The State may not always be friendly to migration, however, so the topic is controversial. States may also use ICTs for surveillance of youth or migrating populations, especially in places where there is political or ethnic conflict, so ICTs may put people in extreme danger.

Risks need to be considered. There are serious risks associated with using ICTs in general, and especially with vulnerable populations. These include everything from online grooming and risks of being lured into trafficking or sex work, to scamming sites that take advantage of youth, to political aspects such as surveillance and targeting of certain populations of youth by the State or other armed groups. ICTs could be a way to help break conspiracies of silence and to report and speak out about human rights abuses, but care needs to be taken that people are not put at risk when they do so.

ICTs need to fit local contexts. Rural areas are less connected and so other forms of information and communication are often more common. Both online and offline means need to be used when working with children and youth. In addition, different social media tools and platforms are used in different places. For example, though the end of Facebook is heralded by some in the US, because youth are reportedly fleeing as older people join the site, Facebook is taking off in Latin America, where many organizations use it for engaging youth and helping them to organize and get informed about their rights.

Not much is known about children, youth, ICTs and migration.  The area of child migration is relatively weak in terms of research. The upcoming World Youth Report centers on child and youth migration and has been a highly controversial process. Migration needs to be considered from an evolving age perspective, with focus on aspects that impact on children, adolescents and youth differentially. A gender perspective needs to be included. There is also a difference between children and youth who migrate for employment and those who move due to conflict or who are seeking asylum, and deeper knowledge is needed in all of these different areas.

Recommendations for future efforts included:

  • More youth voice and support for youth movements in the area of migration
  • More involvement of youth in the debate/dialogue on migration and ICTs
  • Micro-grants for youth who want to work on migration initiatives, including those that use ICTs
  • More nuanced research and understanding of the role of ICTs in child and youth migration with specific lenses on age, sex, ethnicity, and other factors

Resources on ICTs and child/youth migration:

Salons are held under Chatham House Rule, therefore no attribution has been made in this post. Many thanks to our lead discussants and to ThoughtWorks for hosting and providing breakfast.

If you’d like to attend future Salons, sign up here!


3 Out of The Top 10 Most Inspirational Bangladeshis are Tech-Centric

While commenting on the a list of 10 most inspirational Bangladeshis around the world published by the London-based organization ‘British-Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration’, blogger Aminul Islam Sajib points out that 3 of them had significant contribution in technology field.

Job Market Trends in the Mobile Phone Industry of Côte d'Ivoire

Alain François Loukou, a research fellow and teacher at the Alassane Ouattara University in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire, wrote an extensive report on the evolution of IT in Côte d'Ivoire [fr]. He shares the following table on the recent evolution of the mobile phone market in his country in terms of mobile penetration, jobs, turnover and investment [fr]: 

Job market in mobile phone industry in  Côte d'Ivoire - Public Domain

Job market in mobile phone industry in Côte d'Ivoire – Public Domain

  

Is Pakistan's Much-Needed Gas Pipeline a Pipe Dream?

Rows of vehicles are standing in a queue to get CNG in front of a filling station. In Pakistan Gas & electricity blackouts have made the lives of poor people miserable due to energy crisis and the petroleum prices are rising almost every month. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto Copyright Demotix (24/9/2013)

People queue with their vehicles in front of a compressed natural gas filling station. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto Copyright Demotix (24/9/2013)

About 1.3 million people live without electricity, and one-third of them live in Asia and Pacific, according to the United Nations. Pakistan, marred by a deteriorating economy and security situation, is one of the countries facing a severe energy shortage. Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistan’s Minister for Water and Power, calls the country's energy crisis “a bigger challenge than even terrorism”.

The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, currently under construction, aims to help fix the situation. But the project hit a serious snag in early December when Iran cancelled a loan worth 500 million US dollars to help Pakistan finance its part of the pipeline. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had promised the money, but Iran's oil authorities now say they don't have the funds, especially after pumping two billion US dollars into their own part of the pipeline. 

The cancelled loan could jeopardize the timeliness of the project's completion, which would be disastrous for Pakistan in itself: a penalty clause in the two countries’ agreement stipulates that withdrawing or delaying the pipeline will result in a daily fine of up to three million US dollars.

Iran's decision has been a devastating blow to Pakistan, but officials are still determined to forge ahead with the project, for which half the work has already been completed. Following Iran's suggestion, Pakistan is looking to European firms to help with the financing or even act as a middleman and sell the gas to Pakistan, while an Iranian construction company has offered to fund the Pakistani side of the pipeline, but would need the green light from the Iranian government.

One of the major impediments to the pipeline for Pakistan has been international sanctions against Iran. The US especially has warned Pakistan to back down on the project and advised the country to utilize Central Asian routes instead. As a result of this immense pressure, unavailability of financing, and to appease the US, Pakistan has also been aggressively pursuing the Turkemanistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline, which is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

However, according to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the country is up against a wall when it comes to energy:

 “The US must consider that we’re going through a very tough time . . . We do not have choices. If the international community doesn’t want us to deal with the Iranians then they should have given us some alternatives.”

The Iran-Pakistan pipeline was inaugurated on 11 March 2013 by then Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Ahmadinejad, for the purpose of providing gas supply for the production of electricity and meeting other energy needs. A brain child of Malik Aftab Ahmed Khan, the idea originally was for an Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline to transport gas to India and Pakistan from Iran, which has the world's largest reservoir of natural gas.

The project is forecast to bring about savings of around 2.4 billion US dollars by replacing furnace oil-run units with the imported gas. As the nation depends on gas due to the influx of cars that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), there has been extreme demand on the individual level in addition to household consumption. Around 65 percent of the CNG stations have remain closed in Punjab for three months starting in November 2013. The situation is further exacerbated in the fertilizer sector, which has experienced extreme shortages of gas and suffered heavy losses.

Passengers travel on an overloaded bus during a transportation shortage due to a lack of CNG as the filling stations are closed in Karachi, Pakistan. Image by ppiimages Copyright Demotix (2/1/2013)

Passengers travel on an overloaded bus during a transportation shortage due to a lack of compressed natural gas (CNG)in Karachi, Pakistan. Image by ppiimages Copyright Demotix (2/1/2013)

Former member of Pakistan's Parliament, Senate and National Assembly Sana Baloch commented on the cancelled loan on his Twitter account: 

Pakistan People's Party member Malik M Ali Awan replied: 

Commenting on a story about the cancellation on Pakistani news website Dawn, user “shirin” argued

If its in Pakistan's interest to have the pipeline built, it needs to come up with 2bn and stand up to US and its sanctions that hurt Pakistan's interest.

User “independentthinker” chastised Pakistani leadership: 

Why would Pakistan even consider entering into any contract when a) it doesn't have the means to finance it and b) the other party (Iran) is facing severe sanctions from the West and it is very possible, Pakistan can face serious repercussion from the U.S., if it carried through? It amazes me how our politicians think [...]

It is expected that in order to meet the surging demand for gas, concrete action will be taken by the government despite the ramifications of the project. It could be done via engaging Iran in bilateral trade or negotiating for a deferred payment on the project. Otherwise, Pakistan should be prepared to pay the hefty penalty per day and possibly face wave of strikes, violence and discord again in 2014.

The Faces of Those Affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

the three-dimensional terrain of Google Earth, and the testimony of the victim who survived the tsunami disaster, a photo that is collected from immediately after the disaster.

Screenshot of Project Aceh Tsunami Archive. The project page allows users to view the three-dimensional terrain of Google Earth overlayed with stories of people who survived the tsunami disaster as well as photos collected from immediately after the disaster.

[All links lead to Japanese-language webpages unless otherwise noted.]

A group of researchers in Japan in cooperation with the Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center of Syiah Kuala University in Indonesia have used Google Maps to publish an extensive digital archive of stories and images of people in the Indonesian province of Aceh, one of the areas hardest hit by the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami [en].

Project Aceh Tsunami Archive was developed by three professors, Hidenori Watanave, Hiroyuki Yamamoto, and Yoshimi Nishi, and their students to digitally archive the stories of Aceh's damage and recovery toward a brighter future.

Hiroyuki Yamamoto shared his hope that there is something everyone can learn from the disaster recovery process:

被災から復興への過程は人類共通の財産です。その過程そのものが他の被災地域にとっても大変参考になる資料ですし、被災地域以外にとっても教育・防災で参考になる点が多くあります。この点で、復興に向けて町が変化すること自体が記録すべきものだと考えます。モニュメントとして一部の象徴的な爪跡などを残す動きはありますが、復興の過程で被災の面影が全く感じられなくなるほど変化するエリアもあります。私たちが継続的に定点調査し、日々の変化を記録しているアチェ津波モバイル博物館のデータをもとに、一般の人に使いやすくデザインされたアチェ津波アーカイブにより、被災地の内と外が繋がり、アチェの経験が人類共通の財産となることを期待します。

The process of recovery from the disaster has universal interest. It serves as a reference which will be very helpful for other affected areas, as well as helpful in disaster prevention education outside the affected area. In this regard, we believe that the changes in the region towards recovery should be recorded. Even though there is a movement to preserve damage as a monument, some areas undergo such drastic changes during reconstruction that no damage from the disaster can be traced. I have been researching the regions on a regular basis along with the data sets from Aceh Tsunami Mobile Museum. I hope that our usefully designed interface for the Aceh Tsunami Archive will help connect the people inside and outside of the affected region, and that the experience of Aceh will be shared as common property of mankind. 

Users have the option to select what information appears on the map, such as stories, photos, and aiding countries. By clicking the round photos of people, users can read the story of disaster victims in both Indonesian and Japanese. These stories of survivors were originally compiled and published by Badan Arsip Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, the library branch of the National Archives of Indonesia in Aceh, and will be updated more in the near future as more of the text is translated into Japanese.

Screenshot of Aceh Tsunami Archive

Screenshot of the Aceh Tsunami Archive showcasing the story of Intan Mayasari, survivor of the disaster who quickly ran out of the house after the earthquake. 

Project Aceh Tsunami Archive is a counterpart to the already published East Japan Earthquake Archive [ja], so both sets of information can be viewed on a single globe integrated in Google map.

Hidenori Watanave, who has worked on a series of digital archive projects including the aforementioned archives as well as the Tuvalu Visualization Project [en], Nagasaki [atomic bomb] Archive, Hiroshima Archive, and Peace Learning Archive in Okinawawrote:

現地の学生たちは、口を揃えて「津波の記憶が薄れつつある」と話していました。このことには、日本とインドネシアの国民性の違いもあらわれているかも知れません。しかし学生たちは、未来に記憶をつなぐ研究活動を精力的に続けています。また、被災遺構である発電船や、打ち上げられた船の周りに集って遊ぶ子どもたちなど、津波の記憶が「日常」のなかに定着しつつある例も見受けられました。こうしたバンダアチェの被災状況、そして現状を知ることは、日本の将来を考える手がかりとなるかも知れません。

The students in Aceh unanimously said that the memories of the tsunami are fading away. That's something different from Japanese counterpart victims, which may reflect the different characteristic of each nationality. Yet these students are working hard so that their experience will be preserved for the future. We have also seen children playing around the powership and the stranded ship, which are remnants of the tsunami. These scenes are example of memories of the tsunami staying in everyday life, and knowing the condition of the effects and aftermath of the disaster may give clues to how we think about the future of Japan.

A Mobile Phone Based Virtual School System In Pakistan

Rehan School: Now everybody can learn for free

Rehan School: Now everybody can learn for free

Sri Lankan blogger Nandasiri Wanninayaka writes:

Rehan School is a mobile phone based virtual school system that allows anyone who has a mobile phone access the prerecorded video lessons free of charge. With expanding mobile coverage in Pakistan, this will be an exciting way to reach the rural illiterate communities. Since this is a free service, millions of Pakistanis can benefit. [..]

The price of this content is free, but the mobile shop keeper may charge a small fee of 50 rupees to transfer the content in the required format on the mobile phone’s memory card. Later on, this video content can be given by that phone user to anyone else, using Bluetooth for free.

Innovation: A Solar Energy Powered PC Made in Mali

Limmorgal, a low power PC made in Mali via Tech of Africa with permission

Limmorgal, a solar energy powered PC made in Mali via Tech of Africa with permission

As part of our series on innovation made in Africa, we recently showcased the 3D printer made from E-waste in Togo and a spell checker for Bambara language. Today, we present the first low-power PC made in Mali. The PC called Limmorgal (Calculator in Peul language) is the brainchild of two Malian groups, Internet society Mali (ISOC Mali) and Intelec 3. Mamadou Iam Diallo, president of ISOC Mali, explains the needs they want to fulfill with this PC to Bamako Blog [fr]:

Nous avons conçu cette machine pour contribuer à la réduction du fossé numérique, mais également à la vulgarisation de l’outil informatique surtout en milieu scolaire. Limmorgal est aussi un ordinateur adapté à l’alimentation par l’énergie solaire grâce à sa faible consommation d’énergie.

We designed this PC to help reduce the digital divide, but also the expansion of the use of computers in schools. Limmorgal is a computer adapted to be powered by solar energy and requires low energy consumption (24 Watts required).

The basic specifications of the PC are :

  • Operating system: Ubuntu (open source) 
  • 1.4 G Hertz microprocessor
  • 1GB RAM
  • Unit pricing : 171000 Fcfa (260 euros)

Innovation: A Spell Checker for Bambara Language

screen capture of Bambara spell checker via Fasokan

screen capture of Bambara spell checker via Fasokan

Fasokan in Mali reports on the creation of an app to help spell check texts in Bambara [fr] :

Il est disponible sur les traitements de texte et outils bureautiques libres et gratuit : Open Office, Libre Office, Néo Office, et sur les ordinateurs Windows, Mac, et Linux. Qu’est-ce qui a rendu ceci possible ? D’abord l’énorme travail fait par les linguistes qui ont publié des dictionnaires et des grammaires ces dernières années : ces dictionnaires sont maintenant disponibles sur ordinateur [..] Ces linguistes ont rencontré des informaticiens, tous ces gens là ont eu des rêves..

The spell checker is available on open source word processors and office software such as: Open Office, Libre Office, Neo Office, and on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. What made ​​this possible? First, there was the enormous amount of work done by linguists who published dictionaries and grammar books that are now available online [..] These linguists came together with IT engineers with a dream of building a Bambara spell checker..

Made in Togo: A 3D Printer Built from Recycled E-Waste

Afaté GNIKOU is an IT engineer in Togo who wanted to tackle two important goals:

  1. create the first 3D printer from Togo, 
  2. reduce the alarming number of E-waste dumped into his country. 

Here is a presentation of the 3D printer project, called W.AFATE :

The W.Afate 3D Printer made in Togo via ulule.com

The W.Afate 3D Printer made in Togo via ulule.com

A. Gnikou is a member of the Woe lab, a maker collaborative space based in Lomé, capital city of Togo. Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, founder of Woe Lab, explains Afate's thought process for the project [fr]:

L’imprimante W.AFATE est inspirée de la Prusa Mendel [..] Afate ayant cerné le problème que posait la disponibilité d’un kit dans la concrétisation de ce projet, a initié la démarche de fabrication d’une machine autonomisante, facile à reproduire, 100% à base de recyclage et autres matériaux disponibles.

The W.AFATE printer is inspired by the Prusa Mendel [..] Afate identified a clear problem : the absence of a basic toolkit to achieve his project so he opted to create a machine that is 100% based on recycled materials and easy to replicate.

E-Waste is growing issue in Togo and the nearby countries. The following infography illustrates the increased proportion of E-Waste in the region :

E waste in africa -infography by Woe Lab with their permission

E waste in africa – Infography by Woe Lab with their permission

Saudi Airlines Still has Manual Levers for Plane Seats

Saudi Muna AbuSulayman complains about the use of manual levers in Saudi Airlines aircraft seats:

5 Energy Treasures in Africa You Haven't Heard About

Electricity supply problems are once again news in several African countries with recurring power outages in Benin, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire and Madagascar, to name just a few of those most recently affected.

In Benin, a private Nigerian company supplies much of the country’s electricity.

A report on the Kongossa blog [fr] describes the current situation in Cameroon.:

Malgré des investissements réalisés ces dernières années par la firme américano-camerounaise AES-SONEL chargée de la production, du transport, de la distribution et de la commercialisation de l’énergie électrique, le problème est loin d’être résolu.[..] Si à Douala et Yaoundé, les coupures d’électricité durent en moyenne quatre à six heures, dans d’autres localités des pays, notamment dans les zones rurales, des témoignages concordants rapportent que les coupures d’électricité peuvent durer jusqu’à trois jours d’affilé

Despite investments made these past years by the American-Cameroonian firm AES-SONEL in charge of production, transportation, distribution and sale of electrical energy, the problem is far from being resolved. [...] Power cuts in Douala and Yaoundé last on average four to six hours while in other areas of the country, notably in rural zones, eyewitnesses consistently report that power cuts can last up to three days in a row.

In Côte d’Ivoire, outages are so frequent that they are listed on the Facebook page of an imaginary supervillain, Delestron [a play on words with the French term for outage], created by Ivoirian internet users.

Finally, in Madagascar, many communities are furious with the national electricity company Jirama, accused of frequent failures to meet requirements. For example, in the community of Ambohibao Iavoloha [fr]:

Par exemple, la coupure totale sans avertissement qui a eu lieu entre le 06 et 11 novembre dernier. A partir du 11 au 15 novembre, les habitants ont été confrontés au délestage et l’électricité ne revient que le lendemain vers 2h du matin. Tel est le cas de l’électricité mais la faible pression de l’eau de la Jirama fait aussi grogner les habitants.

For example, the complete loss of power which happened without warning from November 6th to the 11th. From November 11th to the 15th, inhabitants had to put up with controlled outages and electricity was only available around 2am the following day. That is the situation regarding electricity, but the low water pressure from Jirama also gives inhabitants something to grumble about.

Rural populations in sub-Saharan Africa are the worst off since only 8.4 percent have access to electricity. However, in light of the growth projected [for Africa], the needs of the continent are certainly going to increase. In 2007, annual energy consumption from primary sources was only 15.4 British thermal units (Btu) per person. By comparison, global energy consumption per person per year was 70.8 Btu while that of Americans was 337.1 Btu (almost 22 times that of the mean in Africa).

However, the African continent is not lacking in natural resources which could meet the energy requirements. Any problems are exacerbated by the global intensification of the race towards energy independence. Many countries are turning to the natural resources of the African continent to supply their energy.

PIDA Africa Electricity Transportation Map

Programs for production and transportation of electricity in Africa by 2040. Map by PIDA, used with their authorisation.

Here are five of the lesser known energy sources  on the African continent:

Heavy Oil of Madagascar

Although Madagascar oil remains relatively unknown internationally-speaking, it has been the object of much speculation. Despite the political crisis, interest in the oil of Madagascar [from overseas] has never lessened. Madagascar news website author Antsa explained [fr] Japan’s interest:

Une délégation japonaise a rencontré les responsables du ministère des Hydrocarbures, à la recherche d'information sur la situation actuelle du secteur des ressources pétrolières, ainsi que des lois et règlementations en vigueur. «Malgré la crise politique, les investisseurs sont restés et d'autres viennent encore pour l'exploration de pétrole. Même s'ils ne sont que dans la phase d'exploration, des avantages sont déjà acquis, à l'exemple de la création d'écoles, d'hôpitaux, l’amélioration et le renforcement de capacité, etc. De plus, le gouvernement ne paie rien, malgré le partage de production», a informé le DG des Hydrocarbures. Notons que trois compagnies pétrolières japonaises ICEP, Jog Meg et Mitsibushi, s'intéressent actuellement à Madagascar.

A Japanese delegation met with representatives from the Ministry of Hydrocarbons to find information on the current situation within the petroleum resources sector, as well as on the laws and rules in force. “Despite the political crisis, investors have stayed while others continue to come for the oil exploration. Even if they are only in the exploration phase, some advantages have already been seen, for example, schools and hospitals have been built or expanded, etc. What is more, the government pays nothing, despite sharing production”, stated the Hydrocarbons Manager. Three Japanese petroleum companies – ICEP, Jog Meg and Mitsibushi – are currently interested in Madagascar.

This growing interest from petroleum businesses could however bring risks. Holly Rakotondralambo, Madagascar partner of Friends of the Earth, explained [fr]:

Alors que les prix du pétrole et des métaux sont de plus en plus élevés en raison d’une demande mondiale croissante, les grandes entreprises et les investisseurs se ruent sur Madagascar. Dans un contexte politique très fragile, ce phénomène risque d'exacerber des conflits avec les populations et de dégrader, encore davantage, des écosystèmes très riches déjà en sursis.

Although oil and metal prices are higher because of growing global demand, big business and investors are rushing to Madagascar. In an extremely fragile political context, this phenomenon threatens to worsen conflicts with the people as well as further despoiling rich ecosystems already living on borrowed time.
natural ressources of Madagascar and the corporations vying for them. Graph posted by  Front Patriotique Malagasy on Facebook, with his permission

 
Natural resources of Madagascar and the companies competing to exploit them. Map published by the OMNIS agency on Facebook, used with permission

 

Tar Sands of the Republic of Congo

Tar sand deposits are an important source of synthetic crude oil. However, they are difficult to exploit and controversial because of their environmental impact. Italian company ENI is the first oil company to exploit the African tar sands. In the Congo, ENI collects tar sands 70km from Pointe-Noire, Congo-Brazzaville, in the Tchikatanga and Tchikatanga-Makola regions. Exploitation of these bitumen-rich sands can be risky, as explained here by the blog Vivement la désintox [fr] [I can’t wait for the detox]:

Exploiter les sables bitumineux est la façon la plus sale, la plus chère et la plus énergivore de produire du pétrole. Extraire 1 baril de pétrole bitumineux nécessite 5 barils d'eau et émet jusqu’à 5 fois plus de gaz à effet de serre que le pétrole conventionnel. L’extraction des sables bitumineux est également synonyme de déforestation et de pollution des eaux. En effet, afin de séparer le pétrole du sable, les compagnies injectent des solvants qui polluent massivement les sols et les rivières.

Exploiting tar sands is the dirtiest, most expensive, most energy-demanding way to produce oil. Extracting one barrel of tar oil takes five barrels of water and releases up to five times more greenhouse gases than normal oil. Extraction of tar sands is also synonymous with deforestation and water pollution. In order to separate the oil from the sand, the companies inject solvents which pollute massively the soil and rivers.

The Windmills of Cape Verde

The Cape Verde islands are the site of the largest windmill farm in Africa. The electricity production equipment on four of the islands could lead to the greatest supply of electricity from wind energy in the world (in proportion to the size of the country), as explained in the following video:

Juan Cole explained the country’s wind energy gamble:

The lack of electricity and its high price have been serious obstacles to economic development and job creation, and thus major reasons for mass emigration of the population. Whereas European wind power often depends on substantial subsidies, the project in Cape Verde is based on strong winds. Electricity generated from wind power is distinctly cheaper than the power sources used hitherto in the islands.

The Potential of Solar Energy in Benin

With energy consumption growing rapidly in Benin, (and estimated to grow by 11% in future years by the state Electrical Energy Company), lack of investment in the sector coupled with losses during distribution and transportation (of around 18-30%) are the main reasons of the current necessity for controlled outages. Leomick Sinsin, a blogger from Benin, described the potential advantages of investing in photovoltaic energy [fr] in his country:

Avec un rayonnement variant de 3 à 6 kWh par m² selon la position géographique, le principal atout d’une installation solaire en Afrique est sa capacité à fournir suffisamment de puissance pour répondre aux besoins quotidiens. D’autre part, l’avantage d’un système solaire est la décentralisation du système de production. Quand l’on connait la vétusté des infrastructures existantes, nul ne saurait contredire le bien fondé d’un système où le site de production juxtaposerait le point de consommation. Le bon exemple est la maison isolée avec des modules surplombant la toiture. [..] Le dernier argument et pas des moindres est le travail d’efficacité énergétique qu’ impose une installation solaire. Un système solaire est une énergie intermittente qui dépend de plusieurs paramètres comme la météo, la qualité de l’installation etc. De ce fait, la consommation implique un recours vers des appareils sobres et peu énergivores. Nous réduisons ainsi le niveau de consommation tout en préservant le même niveau d’utilité.

With power varying from 3 to 6 kWh/m2 depending on geographical position, the main advantage of solar installations in Africa is their capacity to provide enough power to answer daily needs. Another advantage of solar power systems is decentralisation of production. Knowing the antiquity of the existing infrastructure, no-one could be against starting a system where the production site is beside the point of use. A good example is a remote house with panels on the roof. [...] Last but not least, the work towards energy efficiency that a solar installation imposes. Solar power gives intermittent energy which depends on several parameters such as the weather, quality of the installation, etc. As a result, its usage implies a move towards energy-saving equipment. In this way the level of consumption can be reduced while keeping the same degree of usability.

Geothermic energy from the Rift Valley

Recently, several energy companies have stressed the importance of geothermic energy as both a response to the energy needs for countries within the Horn of Africa [Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia] and the Rift Valley as well as an integral part of the program for “green growth”. SciDev.Net reported that Djibouti could become a major player [fr] in geothermic energy:

Le potentiel d'énergie géothermique de la région du Lac Assal de ce pays, qui se trouve dans la vallée du Rift, est à l'étude [..] La production d'énergie sur le lac Assal pourrait commencer en 2018 pour un coût de US$ 240 millions, générant 40 à 60 mégawatts. La BAD recommande que les partenariats entre les secteurs public et privé développent ces projets d'énergie en raison de leurs coûts élevés.

The potential of geothermic energy in the Lake Assal region of this country in the Rift Valley is being studied [...] Energy production around Lake Assal could start in 2018 for a cost of 240 million US Dollars, generating 40 to 60 megawatts. The BAD recommend that public and private sector partnerships develop these energy projects due to their high cost.

G. Pourtier added that Ethiopia is also starting to explore thermal energy [fr]:

Située à 200 km au sud d'Addis-Abeba, la capitale éthiopienne, la nouvelle centrale produira d'abord 20 MW à partir de 2015, puis 500 MW en 2018 et enfin 1 GW quelques années plus tard [..]. La surface acquise par Reykjavik Geothermal en Éthiopie couvre 6500 km2, dont 200 km2 ont déjà été identifiés et où la température s'élève à 350°C.

Located 200 km south of Addis Abbaba, the Ethiopian capital, the new power station will start producing 20 MW from 2015, then 500 MW in 2018 and finally 1 GW several years later [...] The area acquired by Reykjavik Geothermal covers 6500 km2, of which 200 km2 have already been identified as having temperatures reaching 350°C.

Reasons for Power Outages in Benin

[All links lead to French text unless otherwise stated.]

Travailler à la bougie- Photo de l'auteur avec sa permission

Burning the midnight oil – Photo by the author with permission

Benin has again been experiencing power outages over several days.

Following a long silence, the director of energy production for the Benin Electric Energy Company (SBEE), Saturnin Yèdonou, denied all company responsibility for these latest power cuts on the national television channel.

According to Yèdonou, Nigeria, which provides some of Benin's electricity, is behind these cuts. Technical difficulties with their gas-fired power stations could be the cause

Selon le directeur, ces difficultés ont fait baisser la puissance d’énergie produite par le géant voisin de l’Est et dont dépend le Bénin. [..] Face à cette situation, le directeur Saturnin YEDONOU a invité les populations à comprendre que les désagréments qu’elles subissent sont une fois encore indépendants de la volonté de la SBEE.

According to the director, these difficulties have lowered the energy level produced by the giant neighbour to the East [Nigeria] on which Benin depends.[..] Faced with this situation, the director Saturnin Yèdonou asked people to understand that the disagreeable circumstances they are subjected to, are, once more, independent of the will of the SBEE.

Questions on the agreements with Nigeria 

If the energy policy is fragile this is mostly because the country depends to such a large extent on its giant neighbour. This according to the authorities responsible for the provision of energy to the people. The consequences of this dependency affect the economy and slow the activities of the Benin populace. TCN [en] lines from Nigeria and the VRA [en] from Ghana currently provide around 230 MW to Benin, which they have been selling to the country for tens of years.  

However, faced with the energy deficiency situation in Benin, questions could be asked about the limits of the economic relationship between Benin and Nigeria. The authorities are therefore urged to enlighten us as to the contents of this agreement. Rodrigue Tokpodounsi from Cotonou wrote the following on Jolome News: 

A bien y voir, la sortie tardive Saturnin Yèdonou n'apporte rien de concret. Car ce qui importe pour les Béninois, c'est de savoir jusqu'à quand va durer leur misère et quelles sont les dispositions que prennent les autorités pour les en épargner à l'avenir.

The belated reply from Saturnin Yèdonou brings nothing concrete. What matters to the people of Benin, is knowing how long their troubles are going to last and which measures the authorities are going to take to spare them in future.

The paradox

Let us find out a little more about the situation in Nigeria, on which Benin depends. More than 60% of Nigerians, that is around 100 million people, no longer have access to electricity and half of Nigerians living in rural areas have none.  

However, an entire country (Benin), depends on the Eastern giant for its energy needs even though Nigeria has obvious difficulty meeting the needs of its own population. This situation has continued for decades.

To refresh our memories, in Nigeria, the largest oil producer in Africa, this situation is explained by the fact that the infrastructure does not allow conveyance of electricity to the entire territory.

Nearly two thirds of the population live below the poverty threshold and those who have access to the electricity network are subject to daily power outages.

In the end, it seems that the energy situation in Benin is far from being sorted out.

How can we use ICTs to engage adolescent girls?

At the November 8th Technology Salon in New York City, we looked at the role of ICTs in communication for development (C4D) initiatives with marginalized adolescent girls. Lead discussants Kerida McDonald and Katarzyna Pawelczyk discussed recent UNICEF reports related to the topic, and John Zoltner spoke about FHI360’s C4D work in practice.

To begin, it was pointed out that C4D is not donor communications or marketing. It is the use of communication approaches and methodologies to achieve influence at various levels –  e.g., family, institutional and policy –  to change behavior and social norms. C4D is one approach that is being used to address the root causes of gender inequality and exclusion.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 7.24.48 AMAs the UNICEF report on ICTs and C4D* notes, girls may face a number of situations that contribute to and/or are caused by their marginalization: early pregnancy, female genital cutting, early marriage, high rates of HIV/AIDS, low levels of education, lack of control over resources. ICTs alone cannot resolve these, because there is a deep and broad set of root causes. However, ICTs can be integrated systematically into the set of C4D tools and approaches that contribute to positive change.

Issues like bandwidth, censorship and electricity need to be considered when integrating ICTs into C4D work, and approaches that fit the context need to be developed. Practitioners should use tools that are in the hands of girls and their communities now, yet be aware of advances in access and new technologies, as these change rapidly.

Key points:

Interactivity is more empowering than one-way messaging:  Many of the ICT solutions being promoted today focus on sending messages out via mobile phones. However C4D approaches aim for interactivity and multi-channel, multi-directional communication, which has proven more empowering.

Content: Traditional mass media normally goes through a rigorous editorial process and it is possible to infuse it with a gender balance. Social media does not have the same type of filters, and it can easily be used to reinforce stereotypes about girls. This is something to watch and be aware of.

Purpose: It’s common with ICT-related approaches to start with the technology rather than starting with the goals. As one Salon participant asked “What are the results we want to see for ourselves? What are the results that girls want to see? What are the root causes of discrimination and how are we trying to address them? What does success look like for girls? For organizations? Is there a role for ICTs in helping achieve success? If so, what is it?” These questions need to be the starting point, rather than the technology.

Participation: One Salon participant mentioned a 2-year project that is working together with girls to define their needs and their vision of success. The process is one co-design, and it is aimed at understanding what girls want. Many girls expressed a feeling of isolation and desire for connection, and so the project is looking at how ICTs can help them connect. As the process developed, the diversity of needs became very clear and plans have changed dramatically based on input from a range of girls from different contexts. Implementors need to be prepared to change, adapt and respond to what girls say they want and to local realities.

****

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 10.41.22 PMA second study commissioned by UNICEF explores how young people use social media. The researchers encountered some challenges in terms of a strong gender approach for the study. Though a gender lens was used for analysis, there is little available data disaggregated by sex. The study does not focus on the most marginalized, because it looks at the use of social media, which normally requires a data connection or Internet access, which the most marginalized youth usually do not have.

The authors of the report found that youth most commonly used the Internet and social media for socializing and communicating with friends. Youth connected less often for schoolwork. One reason for this may be that in the countries/contexts where the research took place, there is no real integration of ICTs into the school system. It was emphasized that the  findings in the report are not comparable or nationally representative, and blanket statements such as “this means x for the whole developing world” should be avoided.

Key points:

Self-reporting biases. Boys tend to have higher levels of confidence and self-report greater ICT proficiency than girls do. This may skew results and make it seem that boys have higher skill levels.

Do girls really have less access? We often hear that girls have less access than boys. The evidence gathered for this particular report found that “yes and no.” In some places, when researchers asked “Do you have access to a mobile,” there was not a huge difference between urban and rural or between boys and girls. When they dug deeper, however, it became more complicated. In the case of Zambia, access and ownership were similar for boys and girls, but fewer girls were connecting at all to the Internet as compared to boys. Understanding connectivity and use was quite complicated.

What are girls vs. boys doing online? This is an important factor when thinking about what solutions are applicable to which situation(s). Differences came up here in the study. In Argentina, girls were doing certain activities more frequently, such as chatting and looking for information, but they were not gaming. In Zambia, girls were doing some things less often than boys; for example, fewer girls than boys were looking for health information, although the number was still significant. A notable finding was that both girls and boys were accessing general health information more often than they were accessing sensitive information, such as sexual health or mental health.

What are the risks in the online world? A qualitative portion of the study in Kenya used focus groups with girls and boys, and asked about their uses and experience of risk. Many out-of-school girls aged 15-17 reported that they used social media as a way to meet a potential partner to help them out of their financial situation. They reported riskier behavior, contact with older men, and relationships more often than girls who were in school. Girls in general were more likely to report unpleasant online encounters than boys, for example, request for self-exposure photos.

Hiding social media use. Most of the young people that researchers spoke with in Kenya were hiding social media use from their parents, who disapproved of it. This is an important point to note in C4D efforts that plan on using social media, and program designers will want to take parental attitudes about different media and communication channels into consideration as they design C4D programs.

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When implementing programs, it is noteworthy how boys and girls tend to use ICT and media tools. Gender issues often manifest themselves right away. “The boys grab the cameras, the boys sit down first at the computers.” If practitioners don’t create special rules and a safe space for girls to participate, girls may be marginalized. In practical ICT and media work, it’s common for boys and girls to take on certain roles. “Some girls like to go on camera, but more often they tend to facilitate what is being done rather than star in it.” The gender gap in ICT access and use, where it exists, is a reflection of the power gaps of society in general.

In the most rural areas, even when people have access, they usually don’t have the resources and skills to use ICTs.  Very simple challenges can affect girls’ ability to participate in projects, for example, oftentimes a project will hold training at times when it’s difficult for girls to attend. Unless someone systematically goes through and applies a gender lens to a program, organizations often don’t notice the challenges girls may face in participating. It’s not enough to do gender training or measure gender once a year; gendered approaches needs to be built into program design.

Long-terms interventions are needed if the goal is to emancipate girls, help them learn better, graduate, postpone pregnancy, and get a job. This cannot be done in a year with a simple project that has only one focus, because girls are dealing with education, healthcare, and a whole series of very entrenched social issues. What’s needed is to follow a cohort of girls and to provide information and support across all these sectors over the long-term.

Key points:

Engaging boys and men: Negative reactions from men are a concern if and when girls and women start to feel more empowered or to access resources. For example, some mobile money and cash transfer programs direct funds to girls and women, and some studies have found that violence against women increases when women start to have more money and more freedom. Another study, however, of a small-scale effort that provides unconditional cash transfers to girls ages 18-19 in rural Kenya, is demonstrating just the opposite: girls have been able to say where money is spent and the gender dynamics have improved. This raises the question of whether program methodologies need to be oriented towards engaging boys and men and involving them in changing gender dynamics, and whether engaging boys and men can help avoid an increase in violence. Working with boys to become “girl champions” was cited as a way to help to bring boys into the process as advocates and role models.

Girls as producers, not just consumers. ICTs are not only tools for sending content to girls. Some programs are working to help girls produce content and create digital stories in their own languages. Sometimes these stories are used to advocate to decision makers for change in favor of girls and their agendas. Digital stories are being used as part of research processes and to support monitoring, evaluation and accountability work through ‘real-time’ data.

ICTs and social accountability. Digital tools are helping young people address accountability issues and inform local and national development processes. In some cases, youth are able to use simple, narrow bandwidth tools to keep up to date on actions of government officials or to respond to surveys to voice their priorities. Online tools can also lead to offline, face-to-face engagement. One issue, however, is that in some countries, youth are able to establish communication with national government ministers (because there is national-level capacity and infrastructure) but at local level there is very little chance or capability for engagement with elected officials, who are unprepared to respond and engage with youth or via social media. Youth therefore tend to bypass local government and communicate with national government. There is a need for capacity building at local level and decentralized policies and practices so that response capacity is strengthened.

Do ICTs marginalize girls? Some Salon participants worried that as conversations and information increasingly move to a digital environment, ICTs are magnifying the information and communication divide and further marginalizing some girls. Others felt that the fact that we are able to reach the majority of the world’s population now is very significant, and the inability to reach absolutely everyone doesn’t mean we should stop using ICTs. For this very reason – because sharing of information is increasingly digital – we should continue working to get more girls online and strengthen their confidence and abilities to use ICTs.

Many thanks to UNICEF for hosting the Salon!

(Salons operate under Chatham House Rule, thus no attribution has been given in the above summary. Sign up here if you’d like to attend Salons in the future!)

*Disclosure: I co-authored this report with Keshet Bachan.


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