Self-Driving Boats can Reduce Poverty
Many countries around the world are developing autonomous boats for the purposes of transportation and military advancement. However, some scientists are developing autonomous boats for humanitarian and environmental purposes, such as aid transportation, marine safety, data collection and energy conservation. Self-driving boats can reduce poverty by saving refugees’ lives, distributing aid, collecting data relevant to poverty reduction and protecting the oceans, all of which benefit people in low-income areas.

Marine Safety

Self-driving boats can act as highly effective lifeguards, especially in waters that are too dangerous or difficult for human lifeguards to swim through. In 2020, the Australian government granted $5.5 million to a startup company named Ocious Technology to provide Australia with several autonomous boats to save refugees at sea from drowning. The vessels are solar-powered and are equipped with “360-degree cameras, radar, automatic identification systems and collision avoidance software.” The vessels are large enough to carry several people from sea to safety, in contrast with a human lifeguard who would likely only be able to save a limited number of people. According to Statista, “from January to September 2021, “almost 1,400 migrants lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Self-driving boats can reduce poverty by addressing refugee crises, providing humanitarian lifeguard assistance to those in need.

Aid Transportation

Self-driving boats are capable of transporting both people and goods. In addition to their “lifeguarding” abilities, the ships can transport humanitarian aid to economically developing countries. Many autonomous boats have propellers that allow them to move in any direction as well as a “series of cameras and sensors to guide [their] movements.” Some self-driving boats can also sync up with other boats, creating groups of boats that can travel long distances together. As a result, autonomous boats can be highly effective tools for transporting essential goods, such as aid. Without the need for a person to man the vessel, autonomous ships can safely deliver aid to war-ridden countries that are too dangerous for humans to enter.

Data Collection

Autonomous boats can collect a wide range of data relevant to poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. Equipped with cameras and a variety of sensors, the boats can collect mass data about the ocean as well as temperature, air pressure, wind direction, solar intensity, wave height and more at a given location. Scientists can use the sensors on autonomous ships to study and preserve marine life, discover food and water sources and even locate missing people and items. Furthermore, fishers can use data from the ships to maximize their catches and ensure the marine item is a sustainable source, which benefits fishers economically and ensures adequate food for their local communities. As such, self-driving boats can reduce poverty by preserving marine ecosystems and improving access to food in low-income communities.

Environmental Benefits

Autonomous boats can also collect rubbish, monitor marine biodiversity and hydrocarbons, check for oil leaks and collect oceanographic and meteorological data. The boats can help keep oceans healthy and clean, which is beneficial to both people and the environment. According to the United Nations, oceans provide humans with food, drinking water, rainwater and even oxygen. Therefore, as a global resource, it is crucial to preserve the sea. Autonomous robots can protect oceans from pollution and acidification, which both harm ecosystems and biodiversity to a great extent. Self-driving boats can reduce poverty by protecting the oceans, thereby supporting small-scale fisheries in developing countries.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Inequalities
Indigenous inequalities are very evident in health. Unfortunately, Indigenous Australians suffer from much worse health problems than the non-Indigenous Australian population. Here are a few key figures to demonstrate the stark inequalities. In 2017, Indigenous children experienced 1.7 times higher levels of malnutrition than non-Indigenous children. Additionally, three in 10 indigenous people who needed to go to a health provider did not go. Indigenous people’s barriers to healthcare frequently include high costs, unavailability of services, the distance from healthcare services and long waiting times.

Another inequality is that 45% of Indigenous people, aged 15 years or over, said they experienced disability, compared to just 18.5% in the non-Indigenous population. Between 2014-2016, Indigenous children aged 0-4 were more than twice as likely to die as non-Indigenous children. In the Northern Territory, Indigenous infant mortality was four times higher than the national rate. Lastly, Indigenous people had to wait 50 days on average for elective surgery compared to 40 days for non-Indigenous people. All this evidence highlights the stark Indigenous inequalities in health, demonstrating the gap that exists in access to key services and educational tools.

Original Closing the Gap Framework

In 2008, the Australian government made a promise to address Indigenous inequalities in a strategy called Closing the Gap. “The Gap” refers to the vast health and life-expectancy inequalities that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The framework involved seven targets aimed at reducing socio-economic Indigenous inequalities, including many health targets. However, when the government began evaluating the success of the framework, it became clear that there is still a long way to go.

Five of the seven targets remain unmet, with very little evidence of progress in those target areas. The two targets that the Australian government has met were early education and Year 12 completion rates, but the other targets including child mortality, school attendance, literacy and numeracy and employment and life expectancy, have shown little or no improvements. A lot of the discussions around the failure of the framework have surrounded the issue of the lack of Indigenous voices. The Australian government established the framework with no engagement of the local Indigenous people it was seeking to help. It ignored their individual experiences and their local solutions, and instead came up with a one size fits all solution that failed to understand the Indigenous community.

2020 Programme Refresh

Because of the failure of the original Closing the Gap framework to address Indigenous inequalities in health, in July 2020, the government met and agreed upon a new approach. The government believed a refresh and shift in the Closing the Gap framework was necessary. This refresh involved a partnership between all Australian governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak organizations. This represents a huge advancement and the first time that an agreement with an aim to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has actually involved Indigenous people in its localized solutions.

This newly designed framework will embed the cultural determinants and social determinants of health to provide a single, overarching policy framework for Indigenous health. The vision is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be able to enjoy long, healthy lives that are centered in culture, with access to services that are prevention-focused, responsive, culturally safe and free of racism and inequity. The framework ensures that Indigenous people are at the center of creating solutions that work for them in their cultures. Alongside this nationwide government framework, other progress is occurring including the implementation of more healthcare services with healthcare officials that actually represent the population. In fact, healthcare services are involving more Indigenous workers and the government is implementing Indigenous-specific healthcare facilities to better cater to Indigenous people’s specific needs.

New Progress

Evidence is beginning to mount showing the positive effects of reducing Indigenous inequalities in health. For example, from 2013 to 2019, the number of Indigenous medical practitioners employed across Australia increased from 234 to 488. Additionally, Indigenous-specific primary healthcare organizations provided 3.7 million episodes of care in 2018-19. Though progress has been slow so far, there are some promising statistics and a renewed government focus that will hopefully start to reduce Indigenous inequalities in health.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr