Tag Archives: environment

ICT4D Lessons

I believe that information and communication technologies in and of themselves represent the process of development. Much like developing countries, technology continues to advance and grow with each new day. But through this class, I have learned that ICTs are not solely enablers of the knowledge economy. They are also major engines for growth and job creation, as well as agents of social change. The existence of such varied range of ICTs– each one multifaceted in nature– is very promising, since ICT-enabled development comes in many shapes in sizes.

Like it has been in other IDEV courses, the importance of becoming familiar with the target community’s specific needs was a topic that was heavily stressed in this class- and rightfully so. With any kind of development initiative, it is extremely important to have a thorough understanding of the issue your endeavor is attempting to solve, and the context in which this issue is placed. However, the past few months in this class have demonstrated to me that ICT-based initiatives in particular must make this a priority. Technology is expensive, and aid funding is already scarce, so any projects centered on ICTs as a means for development need to pay serious attention to ensuring that the chosen solution is not only appropriate, but sustainable.  The notion of “back-office” versus “front-office” strategies was also something this class brought to my attention. The field of development has historically been driven mostly by humanitarian beliefs and moral imperatives, which have given rise to countless initiatives that focus solely on acute needs rather than making lasting, structural change in a community. This is where I have learned that ICTs have the greatest potential. Introducing the proper ICTs, in the appropriate context, and with careful follow-through can not only accelerate development in all sectors, but also provide a framework and foundation for these other types of development to succeed.

As a future development professional (I hope!), this shift in focus away from aid that superficially appears more rewarding to “less-popular” aid that can actually have a lasting impact, is a vital piece of professional guidance that this class has provided me with. As far as theories and frameworks, this class has not necessarily taught me anything new. However, it has demonstrated to me the importance of them more than any other class I have taken. For example, human-centered design (HCD) is, in my opinion, ideal for ICT-enabled projects. Many unsuccessful ICT4D initiatives have failed due to ignoring this HCD framework. As I previously mentioned, the technology chosen needs to fit the end-user, benefit them, and leverage the skills and resources they already possess.

Finally, the only area of interest I wish we could have discussed in greater detail is the environment. I believe now, more than ever, is the time to begin discussing what we are going to do to rescue our planet. Even though they are commonly thought of in opposition, I think technology and the environment are two entities that could, if applied correctly, mutually benefit one another. It would have been interesting, and extremely relevant, to learn more about ICT-enabled environmental solutions.

Radio for Climate Change

Reading about Farm Radio International for class, I was very impressed by the organization and became increasingly more impressed by the the effectivity of radio as an ICT4D. This led me to explore their websiteImageo to learn more specifics about their mission and projects. FRI incorporates into its mission eight core values: equitable development, community self-reliance, sharing knowledge, use of media, partnership, integrity and solidarity, environmental sustainability, and international solidarity.

Of these, environmental sustainability stuck out to me as an area of particular interest. FRI says that “We support practices, policies and technologies that promote sustainable and equitable development. We promote the conservation of natural resources and bio-diversity for the benefit of all.” I never really thought of radio as a way to support environmental sustainability but from reading about FRI, it makes perfect sense. Even in the US, there are so many misconceptions about climate change and how to live sustainably so it makes senses that rural communities in developing countries would have the same information gap, even more so in areas that don’t have access to electricity or internet. Many development agencies spend a lot of time and money bringing more sustainable agriculture techniques to rural areas but delivering up to date environmental and agricultural information to these communities through radio could possibly be a much more cost effective and sustainable since it doesn’t require the constant presence of a development agency.

FRI recognizes that climate change is a huge threat to farmers and food security because of erratic rainfall patterns, flooding, drought, extreme weather events, deforestation, and desertification. FRI seeks to help farmers mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change by providing by providing them with information on agricultural techniques that conserve water, protect soil, produce crops in drier conditions, and quickly adapt to rapidly changing and quite unpredictable weather patterns. In Ghana, for example, FRI is working with a radio station to produce programing on climate change in two local languages. This program also uses SMS reminders and interactive voice response to improve listenership.

In general, mitigating climate change requires international solidarity, equitable development, and the spread of accurate knowledge. This is all part of FRI’s core values and it seems that their radio shows could have a big impact on how farmers adapt to climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is going to disproportionately affect small farmers, who emit little, so providing these farmers with up to date information is incredibly important to reduce the level that they will suffer.

A Mountain of Cell Phones

I spent this past summer interning at a tiny NGO in rural Southwestern Nicaragua and while there I lived in a homestay with a Nicaraguan family. One of the things that initially struck me as odd regarding the familial situation was that despite not having access to running water or basic sanitation in the household, the family of four owned seven cell phones between them. I soon learned that this was not at all uncommon in the region; many of the adults I met in this extremely impoverished area owned between 2 and 4 cell phones. It was explained to me that the nature of cell phone companies in the country made it more affordable to carry phones from multiple carriers rather than just one. Phone companies favor (or in some cases, exclusively offer) “in” calling, and cell phones are extraordinarily cheap, while minutes are purchased in increments. All of these factors combine to create a hugely wasteful tonnage of cellular tech. The immediate concern that comes to mind is the environmental consequences of both the production and the subsequent discarding of all of this mobile technology. Since most of this manufacturing is done in developing countries half a world away, we’re sheltered from the consequences of the pollutants and waste produced by manufacturing so many pieces of technology. To get into the sub-human working conditions at many of these factories is another issue entirely, but the mass suicides in Chinese factories leading up to the release of the iPhone 5 are only a recent example. Many of the minerals that go into producing cell phones, such as tin and tungsten, are mined in conflict areas with methods that are detrimental to both the local environment and the local population. Cloud servers and the recent phenomenon of “big data” require staggering amounts of electricity. Of course I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t have cell phones—I love mine—but a system in which each person needs many is neither sustainable nor efficient.

Energy and Cost Effectiveness in the Cloud

Energy and Cost Effectiveness in the Cloud

When discussing the benefits of cloud computing, we talked about it being cheaper than other options, such as buying external hardwear, etc. However, what we did not delve deeply into was the macro cost effectiveness of cloud computing, often with the added bonus of it being better for the environment. For example, as Google expands its service, it created “Google Apps for Government,” which focuses on providing a secure and efficient cloud server for government agencies to utilize.

Benefits that it advertises include the decreased amounts of infrastructure that needs to be built to house a data center. It also allows less maintence of said centers, which lead to monthly costs such as electricity, air conditioning to maintiain the equiptment, and water for cooling the systems. The elimination of all these costs leads to huge amounts of savings, which makes the cost of “Google Apps for Government” itself negligible in comparison.

Another way that these Google apps minimize environmental and cost impacts is through a decrease in the need for travel. This service offers efficient video and digital interfacing, so that it can decrease the need for travel. This is a huge cast saver, as well as helping the environment as it decreases the harmful greenhouse gasses that are released when flying or driving.

Overall, Google Apps for Government seems to be a useful way in utilizing the cloud to save money, help the environment, and allow the government to address its consituents concerns to release less carbon. Google seems to be leading the field in this focus on adapting the cloud for specific fields, and it is an innovative way to make money and improve efficency at the same time.

E-Waste: Where Do Obsolete Technologies Go to Die?

There was a lot of great information shared throughout our class presentations this past week. Murali Shanmugavelan’s work, Tackling E-Waste, highlights an issue brought up in one of today’s presentations. While the work is very brief, it systematically outlines the challenges that E-Waste presents. Shanmugavelan cites E-waste as one of the fastest growing waste streams today and it is growing at three times the rate of municipal waste globally (Shanmugavelan 1). It is shocking to learn that ICT industry is expected to generate 53 million tons of e-waste by this year, with only 13% of this waste is reported to be recycled with or without adequate safety procedures. While some materials found in modern electronics may be valuable, proper extraction is both expensive and risky in terms of health. Proper recycling must be encouraged, but this is difficult to incentivize, especially in the context of the developing world. Potentially, there are three main stakeholders to consider that may bear the burden of paying for the recycling of E-waste:

  1. The producers
  2. The consumers
  3. The government

But we also must consider the role of many countries in the developing world, which have become recipients of obsolete electronics and hazardous materials, as shown in the picture below.


According to BiztechAfrica, In 2011, 178 countries have agreed to accelerate a ban on the export and dumping of hazardous waste in developing countries. This included many countries in Africa, which have become dumping grounds for obsolete products.

I can’t help but wonder what we can do, and what is being done. I found two great examples of successful  and innovative projects  from this article, where Sarah Pouzevera asks: What are the consequences of new technologies on the environment, and how can we act responsibly, starting now?

I would like to share two examples with you all:

In Egypt’s Manshiyat Naser district, also known as “Garbage City”, girls come one day per week to learn how to turn trash into income. They work with a teacher to  break down non-working computers that have been donated or collected by the local garbage collectors and rebuild them into working computers. These computers sell for around $300 on the local market. Half of the proceeds go directly to the girls, and the other half goes to funding the warehouse facilities and trainers. The parts that cannot be repurposed into a new computer are sorted for recycling- including the valuable gold and silver of microprocessors, motherboards and circuit boards (Pouzevera). However, I was disheartened when I tried to learn more about this program, as I could not locate any more information. But the situation of trash in Cairo is a huge infrastructural barrier to the development of the nation, as there is not even a government led waste-pick-up program through the country.

According to Pouzevera, “Kenya is emerging as one of the leaders in e-waste management, having convened The National Stakeholders Workshop on Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment e-Waste Nairobi 2010.” Kenya is also one of the first African countries to implement a government-led e-waste policy and strategy. Computers for Schools Kenya(CFSK) a non-governmental organization, “dismantles computers into metals, wires, plastic, aluminum, copper, monitors and electronic boards which are then sold separately”. The monitors are also converted into TV sets after its boards are replaced with those of televisions.

I think these examples raise a separate subset of issues related to ICTs  and development that we have not yet discussed in class at length. A lot of questions are raised as we consider how the issue of trash should be addressed.

Australia Lagging on Green IT

Orignally Posted: September 20, 2011 1:19:41 PM CDT
By: Lisa Podolsky

I happened to come across this article, and was quite interested in it after Wednesday’s discussion on Oceania’s lag with reaching the Millennium Development Goals. I especially was surprised by Australia’s lack of progress in environmental sustainability. In this article, , discusses a number of points contributing to the lack of progress in Australia’s green ICT sector, including lack of prioritization and “green fatigue.” While many may categorize universal education and child/maternal health as higher priorities than sustainability, environmental awareness can greatly contribute to healthy lifestyles, as well as create jobs, promote economies, and contribute to a number of the other Millennium Development Goals. Australian ICT projects must face the challenge of not getting discouraged at failed projects, but rather learn from them as they continue to create new sustainable practices.