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East Asia and Pacific

Yet-to-be-released online mapping tool could make monitoring deforestation easy as Google

James I Davison's picture

We’ve written before about a climate-related effort in developing countries known as REDD – or Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation. So one of the outcomes during last month’s U.N. climate conference that I found particularly interesting was an announcement from Google.org. During the conference in Copenhagen, the search giant's philanthropic arm introduced the prototype for an online application that will allow monitoring of forests around the planet.

Apparently, some believed that the overall topic of REDD may have been one of the few bright spots during the two-week conference. To me, it seems like this forthcoming online monitoring tool is no exception – particularly because Google products are often innovative, easy to use and reliable.

The announcement generated quite bit of media buzz, and Google.org’s press release has a nice explanation of why the online application, likely available to the public some time this year, might be so significant:

Traditional forest monitoring is complex and expensive, requiring access to large amounts of satellite data, lots of hard drives to hold the data, lots of computers to process the data, and lots of time while you wait for various computations to finish. … Google supplies data, storage, and computing muscle. As a result, you can visualize forest change in fractions of a second over the web, instead of the minutes or hours that traditional offline systems require for such analysis.

 

How Social Media Transformed DM2009

Edith Wilson's picture

Through the Web and social media, DM2009 became a truly global event.  The competition among the hundred finalists and the week of dialogues, panel discussions, and other activities unfolded in Washington, but people around the world were able to become virtual participants.  From Russia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Djibouti, Uganda, Belize, and scores of other countries, instant connections were made via YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and the DM blog.

During the four-day competition, more than 180 videos about what local communities are doing to adapt to climate change were posted on the DM2009 Channel on YouTube. Since the channel launched in late October 2009, it has drawn 12,000 views. Ninety percent of the viewing audience comes from outside the United States, mostly from the developing world. Videos have been recorded in 14 languages. (Visit the Channel on the right side of this page.)  More than 300 photos were posted on the DM2009 Flickr site, which attracted more than 8,000 views during competition week.

The DM2009 blog has posted more than 32,600 page views since its re-launch in late October, and the DM Twitter account enlisted more than 123 global followers who tweeted 600 times. New social media connections continue to be made weeks after the competition, and, as you can see, this blog continues to draw new posts and comments.

The World Bank tells the story of DM2009 here.

(Photos, on DM2009's Flickr pages, are [above] from competition-week video of "Meet Climate Change Practiontioners" featuring [from right] Valerie D'Costa, Product Manager of infoDev, and interviewer Habiba Gitay, Environmental Specialist at the World Bank Institute, and [right] DM video command center.)

In Vanuatu, Let There Be Light

David Stein's picture

David Stein is the founder of Vanuatu Renewable Energy and Power Association (VANREPA), whose Solar-Powered Desalinator Would Serve as Model for Small Coastal Communities for the Pacific Island country of Vanuatu was a finalist in DM2009.  In this post, David talks about a crippling human, economic, and environmental problem shared by 260 million mostly rural people in poor countries globally.

Most of the people of Vanuatu spend half their day in darkness.  For them, there is no electric grid.  Instead they must rely on kerosene and other polluting and sometimes dangerous power sources.  But safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and accessible power sources are coming on the market in Vanuatu and other, mostly rural countries in the Pacific islands and elsewhere. 

The devices are are battery-charged, easy to maintain, and simple to install, and they outperform other rural options like "two-light" solar home systems.  Costing from US$20-$100, depending on the product type, they are cheapter than solar home systems, which are priced from US$800-$1,000, and far more affordable than kerosene, which can cost a rural family US$30 a month.

The devices are described as"picosolar" ("pico" meaning very small).  They usually consist of a solar panel and a combination light emitting diode (LED) and built-in battery.

Thanks to a partnership between VANWODS (Vanuatu’s premier micro-finance institution), VANREPA (Vanuatu Renewable Energy and Power Association), and Green Power (VANREPA’s “trading arm”), thousands of rural Vanuatu households are enjoying solar-powered electric lighting this holiday season.

Civil Society and Climate Change: Some Ill Winds

Tom Grubisich's picture

Will civil societies be real as opposed to figurehead partners in what are sure to be numerous climate-adaptation projects in developing countries in the decade of the 2010s?  Accumulating comments from DM2009 finalists who have had experiences dealing with governments in their countries suggest the question is, at the very least, an open one.

Ann Kendall, whose Cusichaca Trust project in Peru was a winning DM entry, had this to say: "Currently NGOs [in Peru] are undervalued, with exclusion from paid participation in government programs because of the support of some activists to communities in some notably conflictive situations."

To be eligible for international donor-country funding that's beginning to gather momentum post-Copenhagen, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are mandated to give highest priority to partnering with civil society in developing their National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs).  Completed country plans generally pledge there will be such partnering, but here's what DM2009 finalist Nazrul Islam, Country Director in Bangladesh for the finalist project of RELIEF International, said: "Certainly we would love to be part of the [Bangladesh] NAPA since my project perfectly fits into the government's current agenda to educate people about climate change. Since the government agencies themselves will implement most of the projects, I am afraid it would be a little challenging for civil society organizations to join directly in this NAPA."

From Brian Peniston of the finalist project in Nepal developed by the Mountain Institute: "My experience is that host governments will only share resources with NGOs under duress."

In this mini-interview, Carlos Daniel Vecco Giove, whose Native Community Kechwa Copal Sacha project in Peru was a winner at DM2009, offers further corroboration that there are problems, but holds out some hope:

Q. Is your country in its adaptation program doing enough to develop capacity -- knowledge and learning -- among government and civil society organizations?

A. Definitely it isn't doing enough. The level of knowledge is very low among politicians and they aren´t able to design adequate politics to adaptation.

Q. Is the national government really listening to local communities in preparing adaptation plans and strategies?

A. Definitely it isn't. The government imposes programs and it usually doesn´t listen to local communities.

Q. Since you returned to Peru from DM2009, do you plan to work with government so that your project might be incorporated in national adaptation efforts?

A. Yes, we will do so. We hope to improve knowledge and sensitize politicians and urban people. We have good relations with technical units within regional and local governments and we are sure they will participate actively in our project.

Cambodia's economy in 2010: After unusual year, is recovery on its way for workers and entrepreneurs?

Stéphane Guimbert's picture

When I was asked to look back at Cambodia's economy in 2009 and ahead to 2010, I began to wish I had some magic tools such as this ox (although in that case, the ox was not that magical, since the 2009 harvest turned out to be quite good).

Thailand's economy in 2010: Growth in balance

Frederico Gil Sander's picture

In the years since the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis, the Bank of Thailand (BoT) worked hard to build a heavy fortress around the nation’s financial sector. As a result, at a time when credit markets froze in developed countries and investors “fled to quality,” large amounts of capital still flowed into Thailand, where banks remained solid and well capitalized. Despite the financial strength brought by prudent policies, for the first time since the financial crisis, Thailand will see GDP and household consumption drop, and poverty could even increase in 2009. It is clear that the financial armor was insufficient to protect the economy from another crisis.

The culprit has been identified as Thailand’s excessive reliance on external demand, and talk of “rebalancing” growth towards domestic consumption and investment has become quite common (pdf). The idea of rebalancing makes some sense – but it can also be misleading. Let me explain.

Fragile States Are Hard to Lump Together

Tom Grubisich's picture

"Fragile states" -- the subject of the next Global Development Marketplace competition -- can't be put in one box.  Or two or even three boxes (i.e. in conflict, post-conflict, or threatened by conflict or political unrest).  The World Bank chart below shows how fragile states that aren't "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries" (HIPCs) can compare favorably to non-fragile HIPCs based on key indicators such as poverty, school enrollment, and mortality rates for children under five years of age.  The exception is in the poverty category in the "last available year" section of the chart where non-fragile HIPCs reverse the 1990-2006 average and perform better. (Some HIPCs have had their debt forgiven wholly or partially, while others have not yet advanced to either stage.)

The World Bank Data Visualization chart (below) in general mirrors the first chart's findings.  It ranks a mix of fragile and non-fragile states by per-capita gross national income (horizontal axis) and per-capita gross domestic product (vertical axis).  The highest-performing countries (green balls) are, right to left, upper-middle-income Gabon, South Africa, Mauritius, and Botswana, all of which are non-fragile and not heavily indebted.  The next highest-performing countries (the cluster of blue [poorest countries] and red balls [lower-middle income countries]) include Côte d'Ivoire, Republic of Congo, Nigeria (biggest blue ball), and Liberia, all of which have been designated fragile but are not heavily indebted.  (Nigeria is a special case.  It was on the World Bank's and other fragile lists as recently as 2008, but off the World Bank's new "interim" "Harmonized List of Fragile Situations" published Nov. 17, 2009.  But the World Bank's 2009 Worldwide Governance Indicators rank Nigeria as the third worst state for "political stability and lack of violence/terrorism," just below Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of the Congo.) Many of the blue balls at the lower ends of the two scales represent non-fragile but heavily indebted states.


 

Path to Innovation Success Is No Straight Line

Tom Grubisich's picture

Need drives innovation.  But even when the need is life-and-death, innovation often follows a path that is crooked and sometimes comes to a (temporary) dead end.  "Eureka" moments may prove to be just that -- momentary.

Consider the cooking stoves used by more than 2.4 billion poor people in developing countries.  The stoves -- fueled mostly by kerosene or biomass (e.g., wood, charcoal, dung) -- kill an estimated 1.5 million people annually because of indoor pollution that causes pneumonia and other diseases (photo from U.N. WHO report "Fuel for Life: Household Energy and Health").

There have been numerous attempts to develop a less dangerous stove, but success has been, at best, only marginal.  Innovative stoves often proved inferior to open fires in cooking local foods, and in other cases they actually turned out to be inefficient energy users.

The 30-year struggle by a group of altruistic American inventors/tinkerers, scientists, and other amateur and professional experts to design a stove that was safe, efficient, inexpensive, and met local cooking requirements and tastes across the globe is described in a fascinating article in the New Yorker magazine, "Hearth Surgery."  (The link requires a subscription; to read the abstract, go here.  Author Burkhard Bilger's blog is here.)

For all their altruism and expertise, not to mention innovation, the designers met setback after setback.  One big obstacle was getting international donor funding.  "For groups like the Gates Foundation and USAID, the metric is cost-effectiveness," said team member Jacob Moss.  "How many people are you going to save with a hundred million dollars?"


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