A free generic and ubiquitous technological platform to facilitate adaptation and disaster risk management in the socially complex Africa
Background: Studies have revealed that in the recent decades, 15-35 % of the world’s annual fossil emissions were a result of land use / land cover (LU/LC) changes in the tropics (of Africa). Africa’s annual influx of carbon is 0.12-0.35 PgC/year-Chart 1. And risks to climate change are real .
1. Adaptation to climate change
What can be done to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change?
a)The social organization of Africa is complex in the sense that communities across the continent exist as clusters, where clusters can be thought of as cultural groupings characterized by different languages, interests, beliefs, practices and governing policies.
(b)Digital divide (or “technological backwardness”): While growth has been tremendous in the ICT sector over the past decade, rural communities, for the most past, still do not have access to the Internet. The state-of-the-art collaborative technologies that could otherwise facilitate adaptation (e.g. through knowledge development/sharing) and assist during emergencies are rendered ineffective due to the cultural diversities (e.g. language barrier), unavailability and/or other costs, if not due to the limited features of the platforms.
2. Disaster risk management
How do we manage the risks, as we implement, in parallel, adaptation strategies (in any)? . Yet, the impediments described in (1) a and (1)b above become a major setback here again.
Proposed solution: Develop a broadly accessible multi-feature integrated collaborative and deliberative (crowd sourcing) technological platform that can be easily adapted for environments such as Africa where efforts to climate change adaptation and risk management are still hampered by digital divide and cultural diversities.
Good news: A prototype for the platform that addresses the "digital divide" problem discussed in 1 (b) has already been developed and tested over the past year by this team. (Illustrations in the later sections).
Category of the action
What actions do you propose?
To develop resilience in the face of the growing negative impacts of climate change, the we propose to pursue the following objectives.
Develop and assist with deployment of an enhanced collaborative technological platform to facilitate adaptation as well as risk management.
Building upon the results of feasibility studies (which included developing a prototype of the proposed system), this project will scale up the system for real world use and continue to add new features over the next project phases. As summarized in Table 1, the proposed system will do the following:
- make available to the users most of the important collaborative and deliberative capabilities provided by contemporary platforms by including Internet-enabled access to the platform(web-based sub-system) which includes instant messaging, user profile display, data visualization, and analysis and enhanced moderation features. Interaction among community members will facilitate knowledge sharing of the indigenous people and well as dissemination of (climate) expert information.
- tackle the problem of unavailability of communication medium in regions where the internet connections are non-existent by integrating mechanisms to allow users interact with the backend system using regular sms texts. But also the interactive voice response system and group teleconferencing. These alternative communication links are particularly useful for emergency response where the power outages may disrupt Internet availability because mobile telephony communications networks remain the primary and in most cases the only way people in remote rural can interact with the intelligent platform backend system. It must be noted that inclusion of these additional features present both technological design and implementation issues. However, they are a necessary redundancy considering the target environment.
- break the barriers imposed by languages in multi-ethnic communities such as Africa by embracing system design that allows for ease of internationalization/localization/customization. This is not an easy task. It is costly in terms of time and money because representatives from each of the the target community representatives will have to be recruited to assist with the translation of the system user interfaces and prompts (from English) into their respective languages or dialects. This task is possible because various translation projects have been successfully carried out across Africa over the past decade. On another front, the efforts to "enrich" African languages by African scholars/linguists seem to be bearing fruits. This development is important because language advancement will allow better understanding of the phenomenon of climate change. Currently, many dialects in African continent lack the expressive power to describe technical jargons such as "carbon dioxide" and "global warming", but with an interdisciplinary efforts, new words can be coined and adoption of the usage accelerated by a platform such as the one we are proposing here. How can one know a concept that has no word to describe it? [Knowledge development, as emphasized by Dr. Monika's 2013 winning proposal is key to adaptation].
- spur innovations by including platform features that encourages creation and sharing of new ideas. The platform achieves this in several ways. Firstly, it integrates built-in email communication facility. Unlike the conventional emails, the platform includes features that enables community or group members to rank the quality of the email messages . Great/good ideas receive prominence and poor quality or retrogressive contributions are also penalized. Secondly, the platform provides a simple project management tool that allows community members to propose new initiatives and manage it as a project. Actions of promoting good ideas translate directly to better actions on, say, combating carbon pollution.
- Include a very user friendly dynamic poll/survey management tool. A survey administrator will be able to create and disseminate polls (e.g. to measure attitudes towards climate change). The interesting thing is that members do not have to have access to the internet. Community members can respond interactively through the interactively voice response system or sms texts. Processing of the poll responses are automated. Use of this feature will enable collection of data which may help local authorities make informed decisions (such as in policy formulation) and hence take appropriate actions on climate change.
- Lobby for support from International organizations, Humanitarian relief organizations, Development agencies, Cities, State authorities and Regional authorities and other stakeholders so as to popularize the solution and to ensure wide adoption. This action will be carried out after some pilot (deployment) studies across selected communities across the region.
- Although it is not possible to quantify the results of cost-benefits analysis at this stage, we can nonetheless make some inferences. In her 2013 Colab contest winning proposal, Monika dos Santos posited that "Africa will be unable to prevent the build-up of greeenhouse gases. What is required to counter the impact is to develop strategies on how to adapt to the build-up, and to develop the resilience of communities and societies. Our strategy will be to 1) develop health care support to African affected populations, and 2) to develop knowledge and capacity building ...". While I agreed with Monika dos Santos views on how to tackle of these problems, I thought [to myself] that while Africa may not be able to prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases, there could be a way of reducing the (rate of) carbon emissions/pollution." It is noted that an estimated 50% of carbon produced by open and wild burning of grassland and forests traces its origin to Africa. Through knowledge building and capacity development, the target communities of Africa should be well informed that some of the deliberate burning and clearing of grasslands and forests (for hunting, agriculture or settlement) come with costs, which may include deaths . Yes, "while it has long been known that carbon dioxide emissions contribute to climate change, the new study details how for each increase of 1 degree Celsius caused by carbon dioxide, the resulting air pollution would lead annually to about a thousand additional deaths and many more cases of respiratory illness and asthma in the United States" . One could argue that there is no cause for alarm (in the case of Africa) because, in any case, "Africa contributes the least of any continent to global warming" - but one must not forget the next important line that Monika dos Santos emphatically adds, "People living on the continent are in line to be the hardest hit." . So we can say that with this platform in place, the carbon emissions will be reduced and the number of deaths as a result of carbon pollution will fall. By how many? We can't answer that at this time. We need more data and this platform is one of those efforts to help in making a more intelligent estimate of social cost of carbon (SCC) in the future.
Table 1: Table showing superiority (features) of the proposed system against conventional and state-of-art platforms (Note: This table should provide responses to the Judge's question... "It is a good idea, and there are some platforms that already do some of this").
Who will take these actions?
Successful realization of the project goals will require coordinated and concerted efforts of a number of key-players. Input from the various categories of project stakeholders will be needed at different phases of the project. Described below are the different actors grouped by the actions that will take at the different phases of the project:
Phase 1: Technological development (refining an existing prototype)
Based on the technology framework that has been in development over that past year, the following people will be needed to further refine and scale up the technological solution/application, so that it is robust enough for large scale real world use:
- Software engineers
- Potential end users (including domain experts in the field of climate science)
- Third party service providers (for example, cloud computing solutions from Amazon, Google, etc)
Phase 2: Technology deployment and evolution
The following categories will be involved:
- Trained technical people in the various target African communities to offer end user support
- Non-governmental organizations dedicated to environmental conservation interested in monitoring community interests, needs and offering necessary support.
- Local educational institutions, especially secondary schools. The students will be able to use some features of the tools and the community input to enhance their learning experiences by identifying areas that would be of great interest for learning field tours
- Climate experts and activists: Designated climate experts for each locality will play a crucial role in that their input (say in vote process for an adaptation strategy) will be assigned weights that are heavier compared to that of the general community member. They will be the authoritative representatives, offering advice and helping disseminate or transfer best practices built through synergistic approach (as determined interactively by the intelligent computer algorithms) .
Where will these actions be taken?
Given the key summary statistics on climate change in Africa (see the Summary section), one can only start to imagine, at least in a fuzzy manner, the scale of impacts of African climate change.
There exist fairly adequate scientific literature, documentaries as well as anecdotes that serve to demystify any claims to falsehoods of the vulnerabilities of Africa and her occupants to climate change, now and in the future. A lot of people in Africa have already suffered or continue to suffer from the negative impacts of climate change, which includes rise in sea levels around the globe as a result of global warming. And these changes, usually, are associated with consequences. For example, increased rainfall cause flooding, which lead to deaths and injuries from drowning and exposure to toxic substances. Other problems associated with climate change in Africa include outbreak of infectious diseases such as malaria and cholera, damage to infrastructure, damage to crops and livestock, community breakdowns, increased psychological stress, increased demands on health systems and social security, among others.
An example of a larger scale impact is the 1984/1985 Sahel drought in Darfur in the Sudan. Almost a third of the 3 million people of Darfur region perished due to famine. A forced migration later [as a result of the unbearable situation], and subsequent scramble over meagre resources resulted in the infamous Darfur conflict, where an estimated 450,000 people were killed and 2.5 million people displaced.
And these problems are rampant throughout Africa! Therefore, the proposed technology is being developed for Africa, although replication elsewhere is envisaged. Developers in USA will work collaboratively with developers in Africa. The actions of building adaptation, facilitated by the proposed technology, will take part in various parts of Africa including Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, among others
What are other key benefits?
1. Increased participation: citizens will embrace more effective strategies (synergistic and refined solutions) as illustrated in Figures 1 through 11.
2. Reduced carbon emissions from wild burning, poor agricultural practices.
3. Reduced number of casualties and destruction resulting from natural disasters.
4. Capacity development (human capacity /knowledge development)
The following figures illustrate the benefits of the proposed solution. Please, read the captions carefully. The screenshots were taken from the working model (prototype).
Figure 1: Key statistics derived from user input data
Figure 2. Member profile display
Figure 3. Built-in email facility
Figure 4: Built-in email facility
Figure 5: Story-telling facility
Figure 6: Survey facility
Figure 7: Survey facility
Figure 8: Survey facility
Figure 8: Survey facility
Figure 10: Simple project management
Figure 11: Simple project management tool
What are the proposal’s costs?
- Project's technical staff (compensation) including initial deployment/translation costs: 1,000,000 USD
- Travel expenses: 50,000 USD
- Computer Equipment, third party services and office supplies: 200,000 USD
- Stakeholder engagement expenses (Translators, interpreters, Promotional activities): 150,000 USD
- Conference/seminar attendance costs: 50,000 USD
- Miscellaneous costs: 25,000 USD
Total: 1, 475,000 USD
Important note: The judges, in part, provided the following feedback which I would like to address explicitly.
1. Judging Staff: "So a key missing ingredient is a market analysis."
This is not a proposal for a commercial (for profit) entity. Therefore, I am of the opinion that the term "market analysis" is somewhat misleading. In place of market analysis, if you will, a need for the proposed solution in the target community has been identified and described in detail.
2.Judging Staff: It is quite expensive, so a much bigger risk..."
Anyone who thinks this is an expensive solution should tell me the cost of losing a human life due to disasters related to climate change (e.g carbon pollution, mudslide, drought, floods). Our proposed integrated solution, to be made available free of charge or at very low cost will save lives as well as property. If one cannot see the big risks associated with climate change (compared with the small budget of our proposal above), then the following quote may help: “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”– President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2014
Also, did you know that "..... there is a small, but real chance of
abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts on people in the United States and around the world."? If not read  and you will appreciate that 1, 475,000 USD is cheap!
- Basic Technology (Prototype development): 2013 (Completed).
- This preliminary stage aimed at creating a working model of the proposed solution. Use of the prototype was helpful in eliciting further requirements in addition to other feasibility studies.
- Through demonstration of the working version of the system (prototype), the software developers and researchers aim to arouse interest and garner support from the stakeholders globally.
- Various technologies necessary for realization of the proposed system were investigated and tested. Potential third party support were also explored and contacts established, and/or working relations established. One of the partners, a reputable telecommunications company based in the Silicon Valley, USA provided, and will continue to provide support for low cost base/basic technologies, pieces of which were integrated and tested in the current version prototype system.
- It is important to note that, central to this phase, was the task of researching and developing methodologies for creating idea synergy from input gathered from the crowd. The basic ideas were implemented, and will continue to be enhanced in the next phases.
- Many other useful ideas were also obtained from the Climate Colab conference on “Mobilizing Crowds to Develop Ideas and Take Action on Climate Change” held at MIT in Nov 2013. [The team leader of this proposed project was one of the participants at the 2013 Colab Conference, and one of those who pitched an idea during the ‘unconference’].
2. Phase 1: Technological development (refining an existing prototype): 2014/2015
This will involve recruiting addition technical people to add to the current team of developers that will create a real world system, by refining the prototype system.
3. Phase 2: Technology deployment and evolution: 2016
- The application will be launched and maintained. (Refer to the section “Who will take these actions?” for details).
This proposal draws inspiration from some prior works. This should be looked at as a plus because, after all, when it comes to evaluating the social benefits of the proposed solution, it helps (and in the USA, for example, it is a regulatory requirement) to revert to a defensible set of input assumptions, grounded in the existing literature, or in our case, also observable phenomena [as the motivating factors in the real world]. Firstly, this proposal, in part, was motivated by Dr. Monika dos Santos's winning proposal  in the 2013 Colab Contest. I was fortunate to meet with Monika dos Santos at the 2013 Colab Conference where we discussed a range of possibilities of collaboration, including developing technology to facilitate adaptation efforts.
Other related proposals with a couple of strikingly similar ideas:
 The science of climate change in Africa: impacts and adaptation, https://workspace.imperial.ac.uk/climatechange/public/pdfs/discussion_papers/Grantham_Institue_-_The_science_of_climate_change_in_Africa.pdf, last accessed on 02/06/2014
 Berrang-Ford, L., Dingle, K., Ford, J. D., Lee, C., Lwasa, S., Namanya, D. B., et al. (2012). Vulnerability of indigenous health to climate change: A case study of Uganda's Batwa Pygmies. Social Science & Medicine, 75(6), 1067-1077.
 Luca Iandoli and Mark Klein. Can We Exploit Collective Intelligence for Collaborative Deliberation? The Case of the Climate Change Collaboratorium. CCI Working Paper 2008-002, MIT Sloan School of Management Working Paper 4675-08; last accessed on 12/11/2013
 http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/644569-african-scholars-still-enslaved-says-ngugi.html [Last accessed August 16 2014]
[Last accessed August 16 2014]
 International Energy Annual 2002. 2004. DOE/EIA-0219(2002). Washington, DC.
 Fields, S. 2005. Continental divide: why Africa’s climate change burden is greater. Environ Health Perspect, 113(8): A534-A537.