Information and stories about technology news.

Rainwater harvestingTechnology has played a significant role in the reduction of global poverty. Two particular areas technology has improved impoverished communities are water access and water quality. For instance, a newly developed piece of technology showcases the potential for enhancing water security throughout Africa. The key is effective rainwater harvesting.

Water Supply Threats

In Africa, increasing water access and sanitation has become a top priority. Consequently, many organizations — the United Nations, the African Union, and the African Development Bank — have come together to solve the water crisis by sponsoring The Africa Water Vision for 2025. It warns that African water resources are threatened by pollution, environmental degradation, and a lack of responsible protection and development.

A New Smartphone App

Despite these threats, a new smartphone app has empowered Africans to efficiently procure their own water. Rainwater Harvesting Africa (RHA) is a smartphone app that the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization jointly developed. It enables Africans to use rainwater harvesting systems to obtain their own water.

Usually, rainwater is harvested through the construction of a central water tank that connects to various downspouts. But, with this app, households are able to capture rain runoff for essential personal use.

RWH Africa utilizes real-time meteorological data to track rain patterns throughout Africa. App users can input their location, the area measurement of their rooftop, the number of people living in their household, and how much water they use per day. The app uses this information to calculate how much water can be harvested at a given time for the needs of the user. Additionally, the app provides images and directions detailing how to construct rainwater harvesting systems with locally available materials.

Promising Factors

In addition, RWH Africa has built-in resources that can improve access to water throughout Africa. They can capitalize on increased technological infrastructure to expand its user base. GSMA estimates that 475 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone will become mobile internet users within the next five years, and 27% of their mobile internet connections will be on 4G. With increased smartphone usage throughout the continent, more Africans will be able to access this powerful tool of water procurement.

Although Africa needs to increase its internet capacities to maximize the app’s effectiveness, it has a more than sufficient water supply. In 2006, the U.N. Environment Programme and World Agroforestry Centre issued a report indicating that Africa alone receives enough rainfall each year to meet the needs of nine billion people. According to the report, Africa is not water-scarce, but the continent is just poorly equipped to harvest its water resources adequately and safely. RWH Africa gives Africans the knowledge they need to personally capture these vast water resources.

Furthermore, rainwater harvesting is low-cost and easy to maintain, making it widely accessible. According to The Water Project, a household rainwater harvesting system can hold up to 100,000 liters of water. This is enough to allow communities to decouple from centralized water systems that are subject to incompetent or corrupt management. Rainwater harvesting hence enables individuals to take matters into their own hands and decrease their reliance on undependable municipal water sources.

Technology Can Beat Poverty

As internet connection and smartphone usage expand, new solutions to poverty issues, such as water insecurity, will reach more people. RWH Africa serves as an educational and practical tool for rainwater harvesting and thus can be used as an example for similar future efforts. It signifies a positive outcome of increased cooperation between international organizations and local communities in combating global poverty.

John Andrikos
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Raspberry Pi“Ciudad de Ariel” is an elementary school in the rural town of Duran, Ecuador. In this small school, people are studying a computer substitute that could change the world called Raspberry Pi. This life changing computer is a small chip that can fit in a hand.

The Technological Gap

For many developing countries, technology is out of the picture. The general growth in technology proficiency has evaded developing countries. They often cannot afford internet access and computers in all schools, so children and young adults suffer in technological skills. Furthermore, other challenges of poverty, like food insecurity and lack of water, take priority to learning how to use a computer.

The problem is that technology can actually provide large benefits for developing countries. The internet offers vast amounts of information and programming to serve any need. If developing countries have access to computers, the ability to decrease poverty levels can be more feasible. Unfortunately, most computers are specialized, expensive and hard to produce. Previously, developing countries lacked the budget for technology advancement and access. But now, the Raspberry Pi offers tech opportunities to people all over the world.

The Device

There are many unique aspects of the Raspberry Pi that separate it from normal computers. First, its price is affordable; it has a base cost of $35. This is significantly cheaper than any other computer chip on the market. As such, some schools in areas of poverty are using Raspberry Pis in their computer labs.

Another unique aspect of the Raspberry Pi is it’s small form. The Raspberry Pi 4, the most recent model, is only 3.37 inches high and 2.22 inches wide. An entire computer lab of Raspberry Pis can fit in a suitcase. Not only is the computer chip small, it is also incredibly light, weighing only 46 grams. Therefore, the Raspberry Pi is easily portable. This is an important factor as many schools in developing countries are in rural, hard-to-reach areas.

Finally, the Raspberry Pi is famous for its versatility. Most computers are made to do specific tasks. Whether it is running a server, rendering 3D graphics, or browsing the internet, each computer has distinct hardware for its purpose. The Raspberry Pi, on the other hand, is capable of handling almost any task. For example, it can be used as a traditional desktop computer, a server or as a basic computer chip to automate mechanical devices. This allows people to use the device for any function they need.

Due to the Raspberry Pi’s unique capabilities, it has the capability to be highly successful in advancing technology for developing countries.

Real-World Examples

A recent study found that the Raspberry Pi provides a cost-effective approach in building computer labs for schools in developing countries. The success of the pilot project conducted in the elementary school in Duran, Ecuador corroborated this finding. Computer labs have also been built in Cameroon and West Africa. It’s not an entire lab, but a project called Malinux Télé donated Raspberry Pis to children in Mali.

The computer has impacts beyond education. An automated loom was developed using a Raspberry Pi. The designers of this loom found it to be cheaper than traditional automated looms. Another project found a cheap way to purify water using a Raspberry Pi.

The little computer has been able to accomplish tremendous things. From computer labs in Ecuador and West Africa to automated looms and water purifiers, the Raspberry Pi has proven to be a force for good and can change how developing countries access technology.

Evan Weber
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in the PhilippinesOver the past decade, there have been drastic innovations in the Philippines. The country has experienced dramatic economic growth and development. In 2019, the Global Innovation Index (GII) found that the country improved on all metrics used to calculate advancement.

Economic Growth

In 2019, the Philippines appeared for the first time in the “innovation achievers group.” The country outperformed many other countries in the area.  Some of the metrics used to calculate these scores included increased levels of creative exports, trademarks, high-tech imports and employed, highly educated women.

As a country, the Philippines has risen 19 spots in the ranking since 2018, to 54th out of 129 participating countries. This indicates a significant increase in the standard of living for many Filipinos. This is apparent in the significant decrease in the poverty rate over the past few years. From 2015 to 2018, the national poverty rate dropped a total of 6.7%, or by 5.9 million people.

Prosperity is largely due to the success of local business owners and entrepreneurs. They have used their influence and prosperity to help those in need in their communities and countries, especially in the health sector. Coincidingly, there was a significant increase in global trade. Both factors have propelled the Philippines into the global economy as an important emerging market to keep an eye on.

Global Benefits

In 2018, the Philippines and the United States trade relationship developed significantly. The total goods trade was $21.4 billion collectively, in the petroleum and coal, aerospace and computer software, motor vehicles and travel/hospitality sectors. This is beneficial to the U.S. because international trade employs over 39.8 million Americans. As the Philippines becomes more prosperous, more Filipinos are able to pour money and resources into helping marginalized communities across the country. As such, there has been an increase in innovations in the Philippines, notably in the health and medical sectors.

RxBox

A distinct industry on the frontlines of innovations in the Philippines is the health sector. Increased health for a population is directly related to better access to opportunity and a higher standard of living overall. One company doing this important work in the Philippines is RxBox.

RxBox was developed by the country’s Department of Science and Technology. It is a biomedical telehealth system that provides health care and diagnoses to people in communities that are remote, difficult to access. The service is additionally available for people who do not have access or the ability to travel for health care.

It is a game-changer for disadvantaged people who would otherwise not be able to get fast, effective medical care. RxBox reduces costly hospital and medical visits, which facilitates better health for people. Communities are then better able to care for themselves and for their families, providing greater opportunities for everybody.

Biotek M

There is another player in the innovations in the Philippines: Biotek M. It is a revolutionary diagnostic kit for Dengue. A local team at the University of the Philippines-Diliman were the creators of this new technology.

Traditionally, the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test is used to confirm the disease but can cost up to $8,000 and takes 24 hours to get results. That is inaccessible to lower-income people who are oftentimes the demographic most commonly afflicted by the dengue infection. The kit helps reduce resource usage for both medical centers and patients by making the diagnosis process significantly more streamlined.

In 2017, 131,827 cases of Dengue were recorded with 732 deaths, mostly affecting young children aged 5 to 9-years-old. Being able to quickly diagnose and treat people who contract this illness makes a huge impact on people living in poverty.

When people spend less time, energy and money on being healthy, they are able to use their resources more efficiently. In this way, medical innovations in Philippines and a growing economy directly increased the standard of living for people living in poverty within the country.

Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Innovative Projects Empowering WomenIn our booming technological world, the gender digital divide continues to suppress women’s access to technology and the global economy. In low- and middle-income countries, women are 10% less likely to own a mobile device than men, and 23% less likely to use the internet. A 2019 report from the GSMA highlights four main reasons for the divide, including affordability, literacy and tech-literacy rates, safety and security, and relevance to daily life. The report also estimates that closing the digital divide in just mobile internet usage by 2023 could increase GDP growth by $700 billion in low- and middle-income countries over the next five years.

Through the U.S. government’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), presidential advisor Ivanka Trump and USAID Administrator Mark Green launched the WomenConnect Challenge. With this funding, initiatives seek to shrink the barriers of digital illiteracy and “technophobia” fueled by a lack of complex resources, such as Internet access or formal education. That these barriers unequally limit women and girls leaves entire populations further and further behind in an increasingly digital world. In the first round of the challenge in 2018, USAID awarded more than $2 million to an initial nine projects working to close gender-based digital divides. The W-GDP initiative hopes to connect 50 million women in developing nations by 2025.

The First Projects that Received Funding

  1. Mali Health – Launched in 2019, the Mali Health application’s trial run proved useful in the lives of 65 women, most of whom live under the poverty line. The women were provided with a smartphone as well as training on the app’s features. The app allows users to search for medical information, advertise their small businesses and connect with larger markets using voice navigation in their native language. An upcoming feature will allow users to voice-record their medical questions and receive a recording back from a doctor. Surveys from the trial run indicate that innovative projects empowering women with knowledge and information boost women’s views on gender equality.
  2. GAPI and Bluetown – GAPI-SI and technology partner Bluetown established the Women in the Network program in Ribaue, Mozambique in late 2019. The project created content “clouds” for locals to access at lower costs than traditional network access, as well as a rent-to-own cell phone program. Additionally, they are training a team of Ribaue women in technology and internet use so that they may bring this knowledge to their peers and promote widespread connectivity.
  3. GramVaani – Meri Awaz Meri Pehchan, or “My Voice My Identity”, is an app from GramVaani enabling women to connect with other women and spread important information securely in Bihar, India. The application is voice-based, removing the literacy barrier from the equation. Women are trained as “reporters” and sent to rural communities to play informational recordings. They gather voiced comments on topics ranging from government programs and water availability to women’s rights. Innovative projects empowering women such as GramVaani make an impact through the dissemination of knowledge, a resource that cannot be taken for granted.
  4. Viamo – The Calling all Women program from Viamo makes use of a voice-based informational platform called the 3-2-1 Service, which allows for individuals to share valuable information for free on topics like health, hygiene, and financial literacy. The information has reached over 150,000 people in Tanzania and Pakistan. Additionally, Viamo’s program includes recorded lessons for women on mobile technology and the internet to help bridge the gender digital divide.
  5. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) – HOT’s project #LetGirlsMap trains women and male allies to map data from Tanzanian villages and report significant issues via mapping platforms. The program has reached 78 villages and has partnered with schools to gather and disseminate knowledge on gender-based violence and economic literacy. Such innovative projects empowering women and girls help them to confront gender norms and inequality while learning about technology and the economy.
  6. Evidence for policy design (EPoD) India at the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) – EPoD’s project Mor Awaaz utilizes a preexisting government program that is distributing 2 million mobile phones to women in rural India. Mor Awaaz offers training and voice-recordings for women on technological literacy and has reached 11,000 women so far, eliminating barriers like caste, mobility, and affordability.
  7. AFCHIX – Innovative projects empowering women like AFCHIX are addressing inadequate internet access in poor communities. AFCHIX created four women-led “community networks” in Kenya, Namibia, Morocco and Senegal. In these countries, women in community networks lead development projects to bring internet access to their communities and learn the skills needed to upkeep the hardware. They serve as both technicians and role models.
  8. Equal Access International – Based in Northern Nigeria, Equal Access International created the Tech4Families program to address the cultural norms that prevent women from accessing technology. Tech4Families launched a radio production in August consisting of twelve episodes that teach listeners about the benefits of technology and justify women’s use of technology via religion and social concepts. They will be meeting with families to discuss the show’s impact and the next steps toward destigmatizing the idea of women in tech.
  9. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) – Low-income women in the Dominican Republic are often unable to access credit from financial institutions because they do not have a credit score. IPA, along with the World Bank, a couple of American universities, and other institutions use machine learning and specialized algorithms to redo the credit-earning criteria for women, separately from men. This will allow more women to gain financial credit, and many have reported that they will use the money for entrepreneurial endeavors, to feed their families, and to invest in education.

– McKenna Black
Photo: USAID

 Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa is a NGO based in Kenya that works to empower young Africans. They provide people with the skills necessary to become innovative and ethical leaders of Africa. The group created several leadership programs and research programs to renovate Africa. Their new program, LEAP, is a mobile phone training platform designed to train employees and students about health precautions and safety outside of the classroom setting.

Who is Amref Health Africa?

Amref Health Africa is an African led organization that works to train African workers. The NGO works to improve health care from the people in Africa while also strengthening health care systems. They partner with different organizations around the world to promote power and unity. Amref Health Africa currently collaborates with 22 global offices and 35 different programs in Africa to bolster health care efforts.

Through Amref Health Africa’s partnership with Accenture, Kentan Ministry of Health, M-Pesa Foundation, Safaricom and Mezzanine, LEAP — the mobile health learning application — was created. The application has allowed health care workers and students to work effectively outside of a classroom setting.

LEAP during the Pandemic

Recently, LEAP users employ the site to train in order to craft a COVID-19 response. The program instructs community health workers on how to raise awareness about the virus. LEAP also provides information on the best precaution methods for the community. Thanks to LEAP, health care workers have learned to take the necessary steps to promote safety and awareness in Africa. So far, over 78,000 community health workers and health workers have been trained and are using their education to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, LEAP launched a two-month campaign in Kenya. Through the campaign,  health care workers were trained to identify, isolate and refer suspected COVID-19 cases. Participants were also taught how to identify high-risk areas and suppress the transmission of the disease.

Results

The app allows customization of the training content to fit the needs of the audience. It takes into consideration the skill level of the people using the app and modifications can be made to the language and audio section depending on user preference. LEAP allows personalization to ensure that the user has the best results with the program.

LEAP has strengthened the health care system in Africa by helping to stop the spread of the virus. The mobile training app also diminished the spread of misinformation on the virus. LEAP has provided Africa with the knowledge necessary to arm and defend themselves against COVID-19.

– Isha Bedi
Photo: Flickr

Data Literacy
Since 2015, Nepal has been on the rise from a period of political turmoil. The country faced social unrest, economic instability and a shift to a three-tiered government. After a difficult transition, Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2015 and held elections for government members. These democratic changes brought Nepal some peace as well as hope for a better and more consistent future. One key element of a Nepali future hinges on data literacy.

Nepal’s new government aims to achieve the status of a middle-income country by 2030. To achieve this goal, it is imperative that all members of society are able to access and properly use data. Citizens need to have data literacy to inform decision-making, create developmental opportunities and much more.

What is the Power of Open Data?

Prioritizing the collection and making official statistics accessible to the population is essential in boosting policymaking and delivering public services. Professionals possessing data literacy can use data to change these systems in evidence-based ways that better serve the population. For example, education or sanitation fields can improve with a greater understanding of how they currently function within the country. If Nepal wants to transition to a middle-income country by 2030, data collection and analytics will be essential to making evidence-based fiscal decisions.

The public in Nepal has had access to government data since 2007. However, reports state a limited public understanding of how to request such information. There is also a widespread “culture of secrecy” in regard to public data. Another barrier to accessing open data is internet speed and access to an internet connection in private households.

What is Nepal Doing to Encourage Data Literacy?

Nepal launched the Open Data Awareness Program in 2017. It aims to bring awareness to Nepali youth about data literacy, as these youth are the future generation of leaders and policymakers for the country. The program strived to raise awareness through training sessions at colleges and youth organizations. The program then culminated in a hackathon event where youth from all over Nepal collaborated in data-oriented problem-solving.

In 2019, the World Bank worked with Nepal to create a 100-hour Data Literacy Program. The first phase of the program involved 40-hour in-person training on data literacy. During the second phase, program participants trained people in their community using the information learned in the first phase. The third phase was another in-person training, this time 60 hours, involving participants from various diverse Nepali organizations. This training also covered data literacy topics such as python, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Later that year, the World Bank, Asia Foundation and UKAID collaborated to organize a two-day Solve-a-thon at the Kathmandu University School of Management. This event provided a platform for professionals with backgrounds in programming, research, development and data science to collaborate on data projects to further development in Nepal. These participants worked in teams on different projects that tackled issues such as air pollution, gender equality and tourism. The program held open debates on complex issues and how to use data to find efficient and effective solutions. Youth and professionals were able to come up with interesting prototypes from the Solve-a-thon. Two creations were a chatbot that tracks Nepal’s air quality and a dashboard that monitors tourist flow.

Data Literacy During the Pandemic and Beyond

In most recent news, the Nepal Data Literacy Community on Facebook that emerged from the Data Literacy Programs in 2019, decided to tackle COVID-19, by providing the correct information using open data as its resource. The community came up with initiatives to inform the population as well as collect and spread COVID-19 crisis management information. Its initiatives aim to remove language barriers on information, investigate the relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, make data on COVID-19 publicly available and analyze global media trends around divisive pandemic narratives.

Other initiatives have also come together to launch Open Nepal, a community knowledge hub. The group produces, shares and uses data to further development in Nepal. The site is a diverse platform for organizations and individuals to share their experiences and bridge the gap in data literacy. Open Nepal involves the public and private sectors to make sure no one is left behind in the fight for Nepali development.

Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr

University of Southern California (USC) has a course called “Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” As part of the class, a team of USC undergraduates visited the Moria refugee camp to learn from and engage with the displaced peoples about their experiences. The need for more livable housing was the impetus for students’ project development. The result was Torch Tile — an adaptable, low-cost, user-friendly solution to the sheltering challenges of the displaced peoples in Moria.

Living Conditions of the Sprawling Moria Refugee Camp

On the eastern coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, is the Moria refugee camp. Moria is the largest refugee camp in Europe. It is the landing pad for the daily stream of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey via a harrowing boat trip across a six-mile stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. The camp was originally designed to shelter 3,000 people. Currently, it is overflowing with over 13,000 refugees.

Tents sprawling the foothills surrounding Moria have constituted as impermanent shelters or “homes” for these refugees. Some asylum-seekers have even established residence with flowers, hand-made tandoori ovens and power cords for hijacking electricity. Despite these additions, the tents are no match for the temperature swings of Greece’s climate. In the summers, heat waves can break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters on the island bring lasting snow from the sea moisture. Asylum-seekers can expect to wait a year before their asylum applications are processed ensuring they will experience both extreme weather conditions.

In the past, asylum-seekers have employed cardboard and tarps in an attempt to block out the extreme cold and heat. Increasing the temperature a few degrees led to refugees living in environments with dank, humid air that condenses on the tent inner walls. Running water is only available inside of Moria, and these moist environments put asylum-seekers at risk for health complications. Many suffer from pneumonia and heat stroke, which there are limited resources with which to treat.

In stepped the Torch Tile.

The Product

After over thirty different prototypes and dozens of hours of overnight testing, the team created the Torch Tile. The users’ needs were at the forefront of the creation’s design. The product comes in 36 or 55 sq. ft. sheets that can be laid side-by-side (like tiles) to fully surround a tent. The sturdy, lightweight and flexible material of the tiles is Aluminet.

The knitted screen-like material allows for airflow, reduces indoor humidity and lets light into the tent for visibility. Secured using zip ties and draped over the tent ceiling, the Torch Tile cools the interior by deflecting outdoor heat and light on warm days. Similarly, in winter weather one layers a tarp over the Torch Tile to warm the tent by 5-15 degrees by reflecting body heat inward.

Then, the team founded Torch Global Inc., a nonprofit currently fundraising to mass produce tiles for distribution. The goal is to provide tiles for those in Moria and for the unsheltered populations in Los Angeles.

Protecting Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The distribution of Torch Tiles has been paramount to enabling people to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. One Torch Tile user from Los Angeles shared, “I have COVID and can’t isolate because my tent is too hot. This product will keep my tent cooler, so I can actually stay inside and isolate.” Recently Torch Global Inc. fundraised $13,000 for the ordering of 1,500 more Torch Tiles — protection for 1,500 more people in their homes.

The collective, global mobilization and coordination of resources necessary to resolve the refugee crisis in Greece is unlikely to occur soon enough. Even when it is, situations and conflicts will likely displace more people in the future, and asylum-seekers living in tents will be inevitable. By thermo-regulating shelters, Torch Tiles alleviate one aspect of refugees’ vulnerability and address the downstream effects of displacement.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr