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Landmine CrisisLandmines are a destructive weapon of war that often times outlive the conflict they had been implemented for. Today, civilians around the world are inheriting the landmine crisis from both current wars and earlier conflicts. An estimated 110 million landmines are active in the ground right now, killing and maiming more than 5,000 people every year.

The Difficulties of Landmine Removal

Although landmines are an urgent global issue, removing them is painstakingly difficult for three main reasons:

  1. Time—the detection and demining of landmines take a good deal of time. In fact, it is estimated that if landmines continue to be removed at the current rate (with no new mines added), it would take approximately 1,100 years to completely rid the world of them.
  2. Cost—mines only cost between $3 and $30, making them effective tools for combat in both cost and casualty effectiveness. Removing them, however, can cost between $300 to $1,000. Removing all landmines would cost anywhere between $50 to $100 billion. Since most countries affected tend to be poorer, the cost of mine removal can be extremely detrimental.
  3. Risk—most minefields are unmarked. It is not unusual to find mines laid in agricultural fields, around irrigation systems and in forests that provide villages with firewood. (That is if they are not inside the villages themselves). Civilians and professionals alike are at risk of death or severe injuries; for every 5,000 mines successfully removed, one deminer is killed and two more are wounded.

Instead of becoming discouraged by how problematic the landmine crisis actually is, one Indian teen rose to the challenge of innovating smarter landmine removal.

The Inventor of the Mine-Detecting Air Drones

One day, now 15-year-old techie Harshwardhansinh Zala came across a YouTube video of military men who were detecting landmines in an active minefield. While soldiers explained the landmine crisis to their viewers, one landmine exploded. Consequently, the blast killed and injured many of the soldiers present. The video horrified Zala, who felt like he could be doing more to aid in the demining efforts. This spurred him and a few of his friends to begin a startup electronics company named Aerobotics7. Their primary task? To create a prototypical air drone to replace human deminers. Hypothetically, the drone could detect and mark buried landmines while being remotely controlled by an operator at a safe distance.

Zala explains how the drone would work: “Our drone will go on to the field, survey the whole ground, send the real-time signals to the army base station, and our drone will also drop a package to mark the location. The army can detonate the landmines with our wireless detonator, without any human risk.”

Zala plans on giving the finished product to his government to help them safely detect mines.

Although his drone may not decrease the cost of removing mines or speed up the process of demining, it would help spot and mark landmines across the globe, potentially saving the lives of those who might have accidentally stumbled upon an unmarked minefield otherwise. Warning civilians of the dangers around them is the most time-sensitive aspect of the landmine crisis, after all, and though removing all landmines may take centuries, Zala’s air drone could be helping people stay safe today.

Haley Hiday
Photo: Sumit Baruh for Forbes India

usaid-start-up-initiatives
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has recently funded startup programs aiming to address global poverty at several universities. The agency hopes investments will promote innovative projects that will be economically sustainable once start-up dollars run dry.

“The old model was we need something built, we hire a contractor,” USAID head Rajiv Shah said. “The new model is solve these huge and challenging problems with innovators and entrepreneurs who can come together and create the kind of solutions that can scale up to reach tens of millions of households.”

Development labs at seven major universities so far have received funding from USAID. The labs are field-testing a variety of new products, ranging from hand-held medical diagnostic technology to sanitation devices.

While diverse, all products are consistently cheap enough to dispense broadly and efficiently, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

Most recently, the agency granted Kansas State University $50 million towards their Feed the Future Initiative.

“With four Feed the Future Innovation Labs now hosted by the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension,” said dean of the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University, John Floros. “USAID is making a nearly $100 million investment in Kansas State University’s ability to provide leadership to the global food systems research, teaching and extension efforts.”

Feed the Future works to promote research and innovation, expand proven workable technologies, and expand nutritional programs for global food producers and their families. Last year alone, the campaign expanded new technologies and management to more than 7 million farmers

Another project endorsed by USAID is Gram Power, an entrepreneurial firm considered a pioneer in off-grid renewable energy in India. This project was kickstarted by Yashraj Khaitan, a UC Berkeley student originally from India.

“I wanted to use technology to work on something high impact,” said Khaitan.

The firm’s model is projected to vastly expand electrical power to Indian homes, according to vice president of infrastructure at Google and guide to the Gram Power effort, Eric Brewer.

“We are looking for ways to find more Gram Power type projects,” said Ticora Jones, director of university-based projects for USAID. “We want to populate a pipeline of innovators.”

Gabrielle Sennett

Sources: USAID, LA Times
Photo: The Guardian,

Nigerian_startups_number_one
When startups in Africa are discussed, people often generalize the continent as a whole. But it seems that Nigerian startups in particular are making big strides toward being the future of business on the continent.  A slew of investments and ideas suggest the country will be the most prominent for some time.

In April 2014, the Nigerian economy added 89 percent to the GDP literally overnight. After adjusting its figures, the country is now worth $510 billion, easily surpassing the now number two South Africa at $370 billion.

The country did not have to squeeze the numbers, per se, but simply updated figures that were two decades old. The economy had been growing steadily at 7 percent per year but this year, the appropriate values to the banking industry and the burgeoning film scene were added, among other areas.

Despite all the other numerous problems the country faces—like ranking 153 out of 187 on the U.N. Human Development Index—its position as number one should prove to be a much needed boon.

And so far it has, at least for the startups that are quickly appearing in the country.

In the technology sector, incubation center Co-Creation Hub has made $500,000 available in order to fund ideas and experimentation. Startups will be given between $10,000 and $25,000 to clarify ideas and work out issues with business models.

Other companies are excited about the future of tech in Nigeria as well. Microsoft Corporation will sponsor the 2014 DEMO Africa Event, which is scheduled to take place in late September. The event will feature the top 40 startups from the country.

One company featuring at this convention will be Integrated Medics. In a country that needs to advance its healthcare as quickly as possible, it is certainly a highlight that a medical care startup will be featured. The startup plans and promises to deliver smooth and mostly automated healthcare features.

The outlook for the Nigerian economy overall is positive. As the country continues to grow (it’s expected to surpass the United States in total population by 2050), it must also continue to rely on both small and big business to keep its place as the number one African economy.

Andrew Rywak

Sources: The Economist, This Day Live, The Tribune 1, htxt.africa, The Tribune 2