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Digital innovation brings development and humanitarian work closer together

Priya Chopra's picture
Photo: UNMISS/Flickr
Humanitarian and development efforts serve two distinct and complementary objectives. Humanitarian work focuses on responding to emergency situations in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. Development, on the other hand, takes a longer-term approach that seeks to address the social and economic aspects of crises, especially as they become protracted.

Following milestones such as the World Humanitarian Summit, the momentum is strong for humanitarian and development communities to work together in complementary ways—not in sequence—to bridge the humanitarian-development divide. Development institutions are engaging much earlier than in the past, emphasizing the need to focus more on prevention and building resilience where they can play an active role.

Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), we now have new ways of bridging the divide and integrating these two efforts. First, ICT platforms can bring development partners together to analyze, design, and track progress in a more unified and efficient way. They also offer an integrated system where multiple communication channels can operate at the same time. As a result, the notion of “continuous” development, whereby development experts pick up the work where humanitarian agencies left off, is progressively giving way to “contiguous” development, which offers humanitarian and development teams a chance to work more closely together.

Are you reaping the full benefits of the technology revolution?

Sara Sultan's picture

 
About 17 years ago, I began preparations for applying to colleges in America. One of the prerequisites to qualify for an undergraduate program was the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), administered at testing centers around the world. I vividly remember calling the number given to see how I faired in the test, standing at an international call center booth on a sunny afternoon in Islamabad, Pakistan, my heart beating fast with anticipation. The call cost Rs.100/minute at the time ($1.05/min at the current rate). But despite the expensive price tag, the service delivered information I desperately needed.

Fast forward to the age of Google Voice, WhatsApp, Viber… You’ll agree that technology has not only advanced but services have become cheaper as well. Technology is entrenched in our everyday tasks—from communication to financial transactions, from expanding education to building resilience to natural disasters, and from informing transport planning to expanding energy to the unserved.

So, ask yourself: am I—a student, teacher, business owner, or a local government representative—reaping the full benefits of the greatest information and communication revolution in human history? With more than 40% of the world’s population with access to the internet and new users coming online every day, how can I help turn digital technologies into a development game changer? And how can the world close the global digital divide to make sure technology leaves no one behind?

Agriculture 2.0: how the Internet of Things can revolutionize the farming sector

Hyea Won Lee's picture
Nguyen Van Khuyen (right) and To Hoai Thuong (left). Photo: Flore de Preneuf/World Bank
Last year, we showcased how Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong Delta are adapting to climate change. You met two shrimp farmers: Nguyen Van Khuyen, who lost his shrimp production due to an exceptionally dry season that made his pond too salty for raising shrimp, and To Hoai Thuong, who managed to maintain normal production levels by diluting his shrimp pond with fresh water. Now, let’s suppose Nguyen diluted his shrimp pond this year, another year with an extremely dry season. That would be a good start, but there would be other issues to contend with related to practical application. For example, when should he release fresh water and how much? How often should he check the water salinity? And what if he’s out of town?
 
Nguyen’s story illustrates some of the problems global agriculture faces, and how they unfold for farmers on the ground. Rapid population growth, dietary shifts, resource constraints, and climate change are confronting farmers who need to produce more with less. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global food production will need to rise by 70% to meet the projected demand by 2050. Efficient management and optimized use of farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizer will be essential. However, managing these inputs efficiently is difficult without consistent and precise monitoring. For smallholder farmers, who account for 4/5 of global agricultural production from developing regions, getting the right information would help increase production gains. Unfortunately, many of them still rely on guess work, rather than data, for their farming decisions.
 
This is where agriculture can get a little help from the Internet of Things (IoT)—or internet-enabled communications between everyday objects. Through the IoT, sensors can be deployed wherever you want–on the ground, in water, or in vehicles–to collect data on target inputs such as soil moisture and crop health. The collected data are stored on a server or cloud system wirelessly, and can be easily accessed by farmers via the Internet with tablets and mobile phones. Depending on the context, farmers can choose to manually control connected devices or fully automate processes for any required actions. For example, to water crops, a farmer can deploy soil moisture sensors to automatically kickstart irrigation when the water-stress level reaches a given threshold.

Nuestro sistema agroalimentario necesita información adecuada – ¿Cómo asegurar que eso suceda?

Diego Arias's picture
Also available in: English | Portuguese, International
Photo: CIF Action/Flickr
Para la mayoría de la gente, ver el pronóstico del tiempo en la televisión es una actividad común, ocasionalmente divertida y sin riesgos.  ¡El meteorólogo hasta puede hacernos reír! Pero cuando el ingreso de una familia depende de la lluvia o la temperatura, el pronóstico es más que un programa informativo o entretenido.  La información puede ser la clave del éxito o del fracaso de un agricultor.  Los agricultores conocen los riesgos a enfrentar en el camino y entonces usan el pronóstico del tiempo y otros datos de precios, plagas y enfermedades, cambios en condiciones de crédito y regulaciones para planificar las fechas de cultivo, cosecha, venta, y el uso de insumos como fertilizantes y herbicidas para plantas, y vacunas y alimento para animales.

La disponibilidad y la calidad de dicha información de riesgos agrícolas son altamente importantes para los agricultores y el posible impacto de información puede resultar muy costosa, lo que resulta en decisiones erróneas y pérdidas de ingresos por parte del agricultor.  Los sistemas de información que no tienen fuentes confiables y/o tienen malos protocolos de procesamiento de datos, producen resultados en los cuales no se puede confiar.  En otras palabras, “basura que entra, basura que sale”.  La información es una parte integral de la gestión de riesgos agropecuarios, no solamente en el corto plazo para cubrirse contra eventos adversos, sino también en el mediano y largo plazo para adaptarse al cambio climático y poder adoptar prácticas resilientes.  Los programas de gestión de riesgos agropecuarios y de agricultura climáticamente inteligente (Climate Smart Agriculture en inglés) no tendrán mucho impacto a no ser que los agricultores puedan tener acceso a información confiable para la implementación de los cambios necesarios en el campo.

Invertir en sistemas de información de riesgos agropecuarios es una forma costo-efectiva de asegurarse que los agricultores – y otros actores de la cadena agroalimentaria – tomen las decisiones correctas.  Pero en una gran parte de los países, los sistemas de información de riesgos agropecuarios evidencian una gran falta de capacidad y escasez de financiamiento.  Por ejemplo, México, un país con un sector agropecuario importante, no tiene información de precios del mercado local de productos agrícolas como el maíz, y es por esto que un nuevo proyecto financiado por el Banco Mundial tiene como objetivo ayudar a resolver este problema.  Pero México no es el único.  Argentina acaba de resolver este problema, también con apoyo del Banco Mundial, con la creación de un Sistema de Información de Precios de Mercado para los 7 granos básicos.

Our food system depends on the right information—how can we deliver?

Diego Arias's picture
Also available in: Español | Portuguese, International
Photo: CIF Action/Flickr
For most of us, watching the weather forecast on TV is an ordinary, risk-free and occasionally entertaining activity. The weatherman even makes jokes! But when your income depends on the rain or the temperature, the weather forecast is more than just an informative or entertaining diversion. Information can make or break a farmer’s prospects. Farmers get a sense of the risks they face down the road and plan their planting, harvest, use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, crop and livestock activities and market sales around weather reports and other information—on prices, local pests and diseases, changes in credit terms and availability, and changes in regulations, among other things.

The availability and quality of such agriculture risk information is hugely important for farmers, and the potential impact of bad information can be quite costly, leading the farmer to make wrong decisions and eventually lose revenue. Information systems that have unreliable sources and/or poor data processing protocols, produce unreliable results, no matter how complex the data processing model is. In other words, one can have “garbage in – garbage out.” Information is integral to agriculture risk management, not only in the short term to hedge against large adverse events, but also in the medium and long term to adapt to climate change and adopt climate smart agriculture practices. Climate-smart agriculture programs and agriculture risk management policies are toothless unless farmers have reliable information to implement changes on the ground.

Investing in agriculture risk information systems is a cost-effective way of making sure that farmers--and other actors along the food supply chain-- make the right decisions. But agriculture risk information systems in most countries suffer from lack of capacity and funding. Mexico, a country with an important agriculture sector, does not have information on market prices of agriculture products like maize, which is why a new Bank project aims to strengthen their capacity in this area. Mexico is not alone. Argentina solved this same problem recently with World Bank support, creating a market price information system for basic grains.

Nosso sistema alimentar precisa de informações corretas - como garantimos isso?

Diego Arias's picture
Also available in: English | Español
Photo: CIF Action/Flickr
Para a maioria das pessoas, assistir à previsão do tempo na TV é uma atividade corriqueira, sem riscos e, às vezes, divertida. O apresentador até faz piadas! Porém, quando a sua renda depende da chuva ou da temperatura, a previsão passa a ser mais do que uma atividade meramente lúdica. Muitas vezes, essas informações são decisivas para o trabalho dos agricultores. Eles se inteiram sobre os riscos que enfrentarão mais à frente e, assim, podem planejar o plantio, a colheita, o uso de insumos (como fertilizantes e pesticidas), atividades agropecuárias e vendas no mercado com base em boletins meteorológicos e dados sobre preços, pragas e doenças locais, mudanças nos regulamentos e na disponibilidade e condições de crédito, entre outros.

A disponibilidade e a qualidade das informações sobre riscos agropecuários são de enorme importância para os agricultores; se estiverem erradas, isso custará caro para eles, que podem acabar tomando más decisões e perdendo dinheiro. Sistemas com fontes não confiáveis ​​e / ou protocolos deficientes de processamento de dados produzem resultados não confiáveis, independentemente da complexidade do modelo de processamento. Em outras palavras, seria uma situação garbage in, garbage out - "entra lixo, sai lixo. ” A informação é uma parte integrante da gestão do risco agrícola, não só em curto prazo - na proteção contra eventos adversos de grande porte - mas também em médio e longo prazo, na adaptação às mudanças climáticas e adoção de práticas agrícolas que protegem o clima. Programas agrícolas inteligentes e políticas de gestão de riscos agropecuários não adiantarão nada se os agricultores não tiverem os conhecimentos para subsidiar as mudanças necessárias.

O investimento em sistemas de informação de riscos agropecuários é uma maneira econômica de garantir que os agricultores - e outros atores da cadeia de fornecimento de alimentos - tomem as decisões certas. No entanto, na maioria dos países, os sistemas de informação de riscos agrícolas sofrem de falta de capacidade e financiamento. O México, um país com um setor agrícola importante, não tem informações sobre os preços de mercado de produtos agrícolas, como o milho. O Banco, por isso, lançou um projeto que visa fortalecer a capacidade do país nesse setor. O México não está sozinho. A Argentina resolveu esse mesmo problema recentemente, com o apoio do Banco Mundial, ao criar um sistema de informação com os preços de mercado de grãos básicos.

Using ICTs to Map the Future of Humanitarian Aid (part 2)

Dana Rawls's picture
Satellite image and analysis of damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Evan in Samoa. Credit: UNITAR-UNOSAT

With crisis mapping’s increasing profile, other organizations have joined the fray. Just this month, Facebook announced that it was partnering with UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and other partners to “share real-time data to help respond after natural disasters,” and the United Nations has also contributed to the field with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) founding MicroMappers along with Meier, as well as creating UNOSAT, the UN Operational Satellite Applications Programme of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

In a 2013 interview, UNOSAT Manager Dr. Einar Bjorgo described the work of his office.

“When a disaster strikes, the humanitarian community typically calls on UNOSAT to provide analysis of satellite imagery over the affected area… to have an updated global view of the situation on the ground. How many buildings have been destroyed after an earthquake and what access roads are available for providing emergency relief to the affected population? We get these answers by requiring the satellites to take new pictures and comparing them to pre-disaster imagery held in the archives to assess the situation objectively and efficiently.”

Four years later, UNOSAT’s work seems to have become even more important and has evolved from the early days when the group used mostly freely available imagery and only did maps.

Using ICTs to Map the Future of Humanitarian Aid (part 1)

Dana Rawls's picture
Haiti map after the 2010 earthquake. Over 450 OpenStreetMap volunteers from an estimated 29 countries digitized roads, landmarks and buildings to assist with disaster response and reconstruction. OpenStreetMap/ITO World

The word “disruption” is frequently used to describe technology’s impact on every facet of human existence, including how people travel, learn, and even speak.

Now a growing cadre of digital humanitarians and technology enthusiasts are applying this disruption to the way humanitarian aid and disaster response are administered and monitored.

Humanitarian, or crisis, mapping refers to the real-time gathering and analysis of data during a crisis. Mapping projects allows people directly affected by humanitarian crises or physically located on the other side of the world to contribute information utilizing ICTs as diverse as mobile and web-based applications, aggregated data from social media, aerial and satellite imagery, and geospatial platforms such as geographic information systems (GIS).

The rise of artificial intelligence: what does it mean for development?

Leebong Lee's picture

Video: Artificial intelligence for the SDGs (International Telecommunication Union)

Along with my colleagues on the ICT sector team of the World Bank, I firmly believe that ICTs can play a critical role in supporting development. But I am also aware that professionals on other sector teams may not necessarily share the same enthusiasm.

Typically, there are two arguments against ICTs for development. First, to properly reap the benefits of ICTs, countries need to be equipped with basic communication and other digital service delivery infrastructure, which remains a challenge for many of our low-income clients. Second, we need to be mindful of the growing divide between digital-ready groups vs. the rest of the population, and how it may exacerbate broader socio-economic inequality.

These concerns certainly apply to artificial intelligence (AI), which has recently re-emerged as an exciting frontier of technological innovation. In a nutshell, artificial intelligence is intelligence exhibited by machines. Unlike the several “AI winters” of the past decades, AI technologies really seem to be taking off this time. This may be promising news, but it challenges us to more clearly validate the vision of ICT for development, while incorporating the potential impact of AI.

It is probably too early to figure out whether AI will be blessing or a curse for international development… or perhaps this type of binary framing may not be the best approach. Rather than providing a definite answer, I’d like to share some thoughts on what AI means for ICT and development.

Counting the uncounted: 1.1 billion people without IDs

Vyjayanti T Desai's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية| Español
Photo: Daniel Silva Yoshisato

An estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide cannot officially prove their identity, according to the 2017 update of the World Bank's Identification for Development (ID4D) Global Dataset.

Identification matters

How do we prove who we are to the people and institutions with whom we interact? Imagine trying to open your first bank account, prove your eligibility for health insurance, or apply for university without an ID; quality of life and opportunities become severely restricted.  An officially-recognized form of ID is the key enabler – critical not only for exercising a wide range of rights but also for accessing healthcare, education, finance, and other essential services. According to the World Bank Group’s latest estimates, this is problematic for an estimated 1.1 billion people around the globe.

Addressing this most basic barrier was the rationale behind the international community’s decision to set target 16.9 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration” by the year 2030. It was also the impetus for the World Bank Group’s launch of the Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative in 2014.

In order to work effectively towards this ambitious goal, governments and development partners need to understand the scale of the challenge – and every year the World Bank Group updates the ID4D Global Dataset to do just that. Using a combination of publicly available data (e.g. birth registration coverage rates from UNICEF) and self-reported data from ID agencies, we estimate the population without an officially recognized ID in 198 economies. In addition, we collate relevant qualitative information such as details on the agencies and ministries responsible, and the prevalence of systems which are digital (now introduced in 133 economies, but not necessarily with full coverage in each).

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