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Information and Communication Technologies

Emergency response in the Whatsapp era!

Deepak Malik's picture
Cyclone Hudhud.  Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
On October 12, 2014, Cyclone Hudhud, a category 4 cyclone with wind speeds exceeding 220 km/hour bore down on to the city of Vishakhapatnam in the state of Andhra Pradesh on the eastern coast of India. The city, with a population of over 1.8 million people and neighboring districts suffered massive devastation. The World Bank’s South Asia Disaster Risk Management team jointly undertook a post-disaster damage and needs assessment with a team from the Asian Development Bank and with the Government of Andhra Pradesh with the support of Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).

 
Whatsapp Messages
Whatsapp to help restore connectivity. 
During field visits, the assessment team interacted extensively with the community and local government officials.  The one story that seemed to resonate consistently was the efficiency in clearing roads blocked by fallen trees and debris to make sure connectivity was restored at the earliest. Following any major disaster, such as cyclone Hudhud, restoring connectivity is amongst the most challenging and critical activities. Restoring connectivity allows for more efficient flow of much-needed emergency relief, medical supplies and helps foster early recovery. We decided to dig deeper to find out what had been done differently here.
 
One evening, while returning from a field visit to Srikakulam district, we posed this question to Mr. V. Ramachandra, Superintendent Engineer of Public Works Department (PWD), what had been done differently. Mr. V. Ramachandra’s face lit up and he pulled out his smart phone. He showed us a “closed group” that the PWD engineers had created on Whatsapp.  For the first three days after cyclone Hudhud, there was no electricity and no mobile connectivity. As the connections were restored, the PWD closed group became functional and that acted as the main tool of communication for information sharing. For any breach of road, the Engineers shared information through the Whatsapp group with a clear location and a short explanation of the problem. The person responsible for the area responded with a message stating how long it would take to clear the block. Even requests for tools and JCBs were made on the group. This helped identify and access required resources. The action taken was narrated on the group discussion page once the problem was solved. An updated photo showing restored road connectivity was uploaded to the group.

No meetings and no discussions at the district headquarter level had to be organized. The District Magistrate joined the group and gave instruction to the department through the closed Whatsapp group. Most roads were functional within three to four days. The whole department worked to provide its services through a messaging system, without any meetings and formal orders.

Social media has become a part of our daily lives and is a very powerful tool for emergency management if used properly. Social media and pre-designed apps are effective when written reports and formal meetings are not required. It is important to learn from such experiences and institutionalize them for effective and efficient use during periods of early recovery and emergency response.

Digital highways to loop South Asia together

Piyush Bagaria's picture

Computer course at a Polytechnic Institute

This blog is part of of the series South Asia Youth Voices on regional integration. The views expressed are those of the authors. 

The 21st century world lives on optical fibers, and with an active base of 1.49 billion monthly users, Facebook would today be the most populous country in the world. The digital revolution presents an opportunity to transcend geographical borders toward greater regional integration in South Asia. And youth, empowered by internet and the smartphone, can override traditional boundaries and historical prejudices.

In post-earthquake Nepal, open data accountability

Deepa Rai's picture
Nepal Landslide sights by NASA and United States Geographic Survey
This map shows landslide sites. ICIMOD a team led by NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps and monitors potential geohazards using satellite data.  
 


One of the first things I did after the earthquake on 25th April was to connect with my family through the internet as phone lines were then not available. Never before had I been so grateful to have internet access. The quakes in April and May claimed more than 9,000 lives and injured thousands. Million others are now homeless. Of the many ways the Nepalese community, international development organizations, and the Government initially supported the most affected, Internet and open data platforms played a major role. As info-hubs they provided updates for those in Nepal and elsewhere in the world and helped monitor post-disaster rescue and relief efforts.

Nepal: It’s time for the right policies in rural electrification programs

Tomoyuki Yamashita's picture
 
Rural people celebrating commissioning of a MHP in their village
Rural Nepalese celebrate commissioning of a MHP in their village


Working in the renewable energy sector for the World Bank since 2010, I have visited more than 50 Micro Hydropower Plants (MHPs) in rural Nepal. From villages high up in the hills inaccessible by even the toughest 4WD jeeps to settlements perched on steep slopes, to one powerhouse that could only be reached by crossing a cold river with shoes in hand.

And with every community I visited, every family that welcomed me, I felt the same happiness to see them celebrate the commissioning of a MHP in their village. They enjoy evenings and nights as they chat, eat and watch TV with their family under the electric lights.

How digital public procurement has transformed Bangladesh

Zafrul Islam's picture
Digital Public Procurement Transforms Bangladesh


Each year, Bangladesh spends around $10 billion of its national budget on public procurement to build and maintain schools, roads, power plants and others. Public funds can be used effectively for the people only when the procurement system is transparent and efficient.  In the last few years, the country has shifted away from traditional procurement standards – paperwork and long processing time – and rolled e-GP, a new electronic government procurement system.

What will it take to realize Pakistan’s potential?

Sri Mulyani Indrawati's picture
Sri Mulyani Indrawati meeting beneficiaries
Meeting with beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Programme in Lahore, Pakistan.

As Pakistan readies to celebrate its independence day, we can all feel satisfied about progress in restoring macroeconomic stability, but should also realise that the country can and should do much better. Pakistan has many assets, of which it can make better use — from its vast water and river endowment, to its coastline and cities, to its natural resources. And there are upsides: a growing middle class, a lively informal economy and a strong influx of remittances. Pakistan can also be proud of the first peaceful transfer of power between two civilian governments. But to reach its full potential, Pakistan needs to focus on two critical areas, both obvious and urgent. It needs to ensure that its people have the means to fully participate in and contribute to the economy. And it needs to integrate itself more, globally and regionally.

The first challenge is demographic. As a result of rapid population growth, 1.5 million youngsters reach the working age each year. The question is, will the private sector be able to provide the jobs they need and want? And will the youth have the skills to get good jobs? Pakistan must do far better in education. Primary school net enrollment is about 57 per cent, well below other South Asian countries. Enrollment drops by half in middle school, with much lower levels for girls and children from poor families. This is not a good foundation to build on.

It is not surprising then that Pakistan also struggles to give all its citizens the opportunity to participate in building better lives for themselves. Only 25 per cent of women participate in the labour force, compared to 50 and 80 per cent in most developing countries. Women and girls deserve better. Research shows that girls with little or no education are far more likely to be married as children, suffer domestic violence, and live in poverty. This harms not only them, but also their children, their communities and the economy. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity and improve development outcomes for the next generation. It is smart economics.

Pakistan has taken steps to empower women. The Benazir Income Support Program, supported by the World Bank, has provided millions of women with national ID cards and makes direct payments to them, strengthening their ability to take decisions and move out of poverty.

In Afghanistan, new technologies for doing business in the 21th century

Ikramullah Quraishi's picture
 
The Enterprise System is handed over to Hashim Naeem Tailoring Company and its employees, Parwan, Afghanistan
The Enterprise System is handed over to Hashim Naeem Tailoring Company and its employees, Parwan, Afghanistan

Sail Food Production Company is one of the largest food manufacturing factory in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Despite countless hours spent on manual bookkeeping, its owner always complained about errors when reporting profits and losses on the company’s balance sheets.

At the close of each monthly accounting period, the company was always late in submitting profit and loss statements to the Provincial Department of Finance. Similarly, there were many inefficiencies in production and raw material tracking due to the absence of a proper inventory control system.

The scarcity of information technology integration within business operations has limited the development of Sail Food Production and many other Afghan small and medium enterprises (SME) as they are trying to remain competitive in a global business environment. How could this be improved?

Digital Youth Summit inspires youth to lead tech revolution in Peshawar

Ravi Kumar's picture
 Peshawar 2.0
Youth at the third and last day in Peshawar, Pakistan for Digital Youth Summit 2015. 
Credits: Peshawar 2.0
On a sunny Thursday last week in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and the fifth largest city in Pakistan, the energy at the venue of the Digital Youth Summit 2015 was palpable from the beginning.
 
Young people were lined up  to access what has become the largest tech conference of Pakistan, while others were working as volunteers to help manage the event. A coalition of prestigious sponsors joined the World Bank, the KP IT Board and Peshawar 2.0 to put on a two and half-day summit to inspire the next generation of digital innovators in Pakistan.
 
Arsalan Ahmed Jaraal, a student at the Institute of Management Sciences, who is volunteering at the event, said friends are persuading each other to attend the Summit. It saw the participation of 3000+ youth and 80+ speakers, over 30+ sessions and breakout events.
 
With energetic, social media savvy youth presence, it wasn’t surprising that the Summit trended on Twitter in Pakistan and more than 1.2 million people were reached on social media.
 
While this is the second such summit, there were also several firsts this year. This year saw many more international and national speakers flock to Peshawar to take part in the event. Two Pakistani American entrepreneurs, who met for the first time at the summit, announced that they would be launching a fund targeting high net worth Pakistani Americans as seed funding for Pakistani tech startups. This is perhaps the beginning of an angel investment network that leverages to expatriate community.
 
In addition, the Summit saw the first investment in a Peshawar based startup. Ebtihaj, Haroon Baig, Zahid Ali Khan, and Mubassir Hayat—all of them in their early 20s-- founded Messiah, an app that allows users to easily connect with loved ones and first responders in case of an emergency. At the summit, they were offered investment in their startup, by two angels—Shubber Ali and Kash Rehman—as well as from Oasis 500, a Jordan based investment company. The team will be attending a 100 day acceleration program in Amman later this year.  

Virtual Classrooms Foster Medical Education and Research in Bangladesh

Shiro Nakata's picture
Prof. Laila Banu (center) and Next Generation Sequencer (left) in her laboratory
Prof. Laila Banu (center) and Next Generation Sequencer (left) in her laboratory

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) is a leading post-graduate medical institution and the only medical university in Bangladesh. It plays a unique role in enhancing the quality of medical education and research. BSMMU is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) which has brought about significant improvements in the quality of medical education and research.
 
Launching the first-ever virtual classroom for medical education in Bangladesh

Teaching quality in medical education and training is increasingly a thorny issue in Bangladesh. Teachers in medical colleges are inadequate both in quantity and quality. Currently there are only around 120 pharmacology teachers across 86 medical colleges in Bangladesh.

To address the challenge, the AIF supported the Department of Pharmacology of BSMMU to establish the first-ever virtual classroom system for medical college students in Bangladesh. The system has a great potential of changing the landscape of medical education and training in Bangladesh.
Network of the virtual classrooms connected to medical colleges in different regions of Bangladesh
Network of the virtual classrooms connected
to medical colleges in different regions of Bangladesh
​The “Virtual Teaching-Learning Program on Pharmacology” sub-project was launched to pilot innovative use of information technology in medical education by establishing a virtual classroom environment. Under the pilot, medical college institutions across Bangladesh are connected to the virtual classroom. It allows senior medical professors in Dhaka and even international experts from abroad to deliver their lectures to students in medical colleges in different regions. Students can attend real-time online classes, download teaching materials, and assess their competence in self-administered test.
 
“So far 36 topics are available to the students for free. An online question bank has been uploaded containing about 4,000 questions. We also established a synchronous teaching system that is so far connected with 32 medical colleges. Professors in Dhaka now remotely teach classes to students outside of Dhaka, and sometimes international guest lecturers also give lectures via the synchronous system. It is an exceptional experience for students in remote areas to listen and ask questions to renowned medical professionals. The bandwidth of internet connectivity is the only challenge. BSMMU is connected to high-speed Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN), whereas colleges in remote areas have only narrow-band connectivity and cannot receive our synchronous broadcasting. It is now essential for the colleges to get broad-band internet connectivity.” says Professor Mir Misbahuddin, the sub-project manager at Department of Pharmacology, BSMMU.


Establishing a world-class genetic research environment

​ The “Modernization of Genetic Research Facilities and Patient Care Services” sub-project by the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences is another success at the BSMMU. The sub-project installed a Next Generation DNA Sequencer, the only one of its kind in the country, and established a modern fully equipped genetic research laboratory. The sub-project aims to promote research on human genetic diseases in Bangladesh, which have never been addressed due to the lack of proper facilities, and invites international experts in genetics and molecular biology to train medical researchers in Bangladesh.

With this Next Generation Sequencer, we can now analyze the DNA sequence of Bangladeshi citizens and explore the genetic data of most prevalent genetic diseases in Bangladesh.’ explains Laila Anjuman Banu, sub-project manager and professor of Genetics & Molecular Biology. “Currently, we are developing a database of patients suffering from breast cancer and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Bangladesh. The database is useful for researchers in Bangladesh for further researches on developing molecular diagnostics and designing targeted therapeutics in the near future. This is a cutting-edge arena for medical research worldwide. We have published two papers already using this new sequencer.” she added.

AIF sub-projects awarded to other departments such as Anatomy, Urology, and Palliative Care have been equally successful.
 

Wanted! Your proposals on Regional Integration in South Asia

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Wanted! Your proposals on Regional Integration in South Asia



Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.

To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.[1]
 

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