Water rationing in Yemen; a sign of things to come?

August 28, 2009
Drivers wait at Al-Suhaini Well, near Al-Saleh Mosque in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, for three to fours hours to have their trucks filled with water.  © Adel Yahya/IRIN

Drivers wait at Al-Suhaini Well, near Al-Saleh Mosque in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, for three to fours hours to have their trucks filled with water. © Adel Yahya/IRIN

IRIN reports on new levels of water rationing in Yemeni cities.

“Water and sanitation companies in Yemen are adopting unprecedented water rationing in major cities”, reports IRIN in a recent article.

Price hikes, rising demand, and decreasing precipitation has brought the situation to a critical head.  Estimates place Yemen’s water deficit at 1.28 billion m³.

The impact on local residents has been huge.  One resident reports,

Our household has received no water for 21 days, so I turned to buying water from trucks… In the past month, I bought water four times, costing me YR10,000 [$50] – nearly one-third of my monthly salary.

Is this a sign of things to come in other parts of the arid world?


Climate Camp to London police: We won’t tell you where the next camp is because you keep beating us up

August 25, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Climate Camp organisers demonstrate a cracking expertise with web media and the power of decentralised decision-making.

Having trouble with the authorities ruining your social activities?  Getting beat up frequently by the police?

Leverage the web to humiliate your opponent and gain the upper hand in a smashing example of modern, technology enabled social activism.


Water crisis = food crisis

July 8, 2009
Australia's rice production drops to practically zero because of water shortages; Image via SF Gate

Australia's rice production drops to practically zero because of water shortages; Image via SF Gate

When water availability diminishes, food crops tend to suffer.

TreeHugger has an excellent discussion of the impact of drought on food production in Australia.

Rice is a water intensive crop, and when drought hits, production suffers.  In Australia, “production has dropped from 1.6 million tons in 2000 to a mere 18,000 tons in 2008.”

This has important implications for planning for climate change.

Taking the experience of Australia to heart now can help other areas be proactive about water use and avoid sharp changes in agriculture, and therefore economy, such as what Australia is now facing. Getting started today and reduce our water use to only what we need as well as make practical decisions in the agricultural sector, can help a region avoid a more dire crisis in the future.


IFTF 10 year forecast: Environment, the Blue Economy

May 19, 2009

enviro

We continue our series reviewing key themes from The Institute for the Future’s latest 10 year forecast.  In this post, Environment: The Blue Economy

The next theme we will be reviewing from the IFTF’s new 10 year forecast is that of Environment.

This is one of the more interesting themes to emerge from their 10 year forecast.  On the environment, the IFTF writes,

The oceans become the focal point of economic development and environmental debate, as we struggle with collapsing fisheries, a search for new energy sources, and large-scale interventions in global climate climate change.

Detailed sub-themes from this concept include:

  • New coastal zone materials: the rush to solve problems of rising sea levels and coastal climate events drive the development of new materials – many based on materials and life forms that occur naturally in coastal areas.
  • Deep, deep ocean drilling: in the search for new sources of fossil fuel, engineers go much deeper into the ocean floor – with uncertain results.
  • Renewable ocean energy: new technologies for hydrokinetic (or wave) energy and ocean thermal energy conversion get on the fast track to development as a means of reducing carbon emissions.
  • Collapse of fisheries: climate change and over fishing threaten the viability of global fisheries, and drive new certification practices for sustainable fishing.
  • Coastal ecosystem services: urbanisation, industrialisation, and climate converge in coastal zones, where measurement of ecosystem services will play an increasingly important role in everything from development and insurance to disaster management.
  • Ocean dead zones: large low oxygen zones appear to be recurring with regular cycles now of the West Coast of the United States, which scientists attribute to climate change.
  • Methane scares: rising temperatures may contribute to rapid release of methane – a far more destructive greenhouse gas than CO2 – trapped in permafrost and the ocean depths.
  • Geo-engineering climate change: as the ocean’s capacity to regulate climate change declines, extreme geo-engineering measures – from ocean fertilisation to very large scale thermal pumps, enter the debate.
  • Golden age of oceanography: ocean crises, plus low-cost, sensor-based data, genetic mapping of ocean species and the growth of amateur and NGO ocean scientists accelerate the evolution of ocean science.

This theme points us towards the often ignored, often undervalued, yet completely essential aspect of human life; the ocean.  We find the discussion of how ongoing political and technological dilemmas on land translate into policy, debate, and action on the seas to be fascinating; not least of which because the geo-political dynamics become much more exciting, and, well, fluid (sorry the pun).

I was surprised not to see piracy on the list as well, however.  No mass migration of urban populations as coastal cities become uninsurable or uninhabitable.  But a fantastic mix of issues to consider, reminiscent of a recent HFP scenario on water pollution, urban growth, and state conflict in the ECOWAS, by HFP consultant Noah Raford.

As always, thanks to The Institute for the Future for these inspiring themes from their latest 10 year forecast.

Next in the seriesTechnology: Pervasive Eco-Monitoring.


GPS accuracy could start to drop in 2010

May 17, 2009

gps

A new US GAO report has found that organisational factors in the US Air Force’s contracting and budget management process may result in decreased accuracy or even failure of the global GPS system, starting in 2010.

From the report:

The Global Positioning System (GPS), which provides positioning, navigation, and timing data to users worldwide, has become essential to U.S. national security and a key tool in an expanding array of public service and commercial applications at home and abroad. The United States provides GPS data free of charge. The Air Force, which is responsible for GPS acquisition, is in the process of modernizing GPS. In light of the importance of GPS, the modernization effort, and international efforts to develop new systems, GAO was asked to undertake a broad review of GPS.

The report reviewed the Air Force’s replacement programme for the ageing GPS satellites and that,

“If the Air Force does not meet its schedule goals for development of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be an increased likelihood that in 2010, as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to. Such a gap in capability could have wide-ranging impacts on all GPS users, though there are measures the Air Force and others can take to plan for and minimize these impacts.”

It concludes, “it is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption. If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected.”

Commentary

We have become so dependent on GPS in many ways over the last 5 to 10 years.  Crowd sourced crisis mapping, rapid disaster response, and large force co-ordination all depend on GPS and location awareness abilities.

I would love to see a scenario play out whereby aid, development and military organisations invest increasing resource on such advanced location aware technologies, only to have them fail or decay.  What would such a scenario look like?

Obviously the US military won’t let the system fail.  A commentary on TidBITS writes that, “even if the satellite constellation drops below 24 satellites, that doesn’t mean that GPS service will fail altogether. It does mean that the level of accuracy that both military and civilian users have become accustomed to – which is actually higher than promised – may degrade significantly.”

Alternative systems also may come online in the coming years.  The EU is developing a civilian GPS system called Galileo, scheduled to come online in 2013, and the Russian GLONOSS system may be repaired as well (the system was developed in 1995, but fell into disrepair due to lack of funds.  It has been promised to come back online by 2010, but there are doubts about this).

It is likely that the US Air Force will fix the system before disruptions become critical.  It is also likely, however given the history of bureaucracy and budgetary inflation at the Pentagon (see the F-111, B-1, or F-15 debacles for case studies), that these repairs won’t be done in a timely or efficient manner, but only at great expense and with great fanfare and inefficiency after the fact.


New Hans Rosling video at TED on the HIV epidemic

May 15, 2009

Hans Rosling, of GapMinder fame and earlier posts, just debuted a nice new video demonstrating the spread of HIV virulence in the world.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Rosling demonstrates how the truth behind the data is often more complex than it seems.  He uses the examples of Tanzania and Kenya, which have a dramatic variation in HIV incidence rates between the wealthy and poor (with wealthier Tanzanians remarkably more infected than the poor) and even with a country (with a single Kenyan province accounting for the vast majority of HIV infection rates).

This presentation raises a few extremely important points, with which readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar:

  • Resolution matters: Issues of data availability are endemic to development, but making policy and plans on averages is always, always, always a bad idea and invariably produces a poor understanding of reality.  This is true in spatial terms (Kenya) and social terms (Tanzania).  I would add temporal terms as well.
  • Visualisation matters: Even if you have the best data in the world, how you manage and present it makes as much, if not more, impact than the data itself.  Rosling is a master at this, a la Tufte in his earlier days.
  • Narrative matters: The impact of the data and the visuals are only as good as the narrative understanding that draws them together.

An excellent presentation as always.  I wish all development briefings were this clear.


Hans Rosling Video Gapcast: Swine Flu News versus Death Ratio

May 11, 2009

Hans Rosling, of Gapminder fame, recently posted a humorous and perspective-inducing video comparing the number of deaths from swine flu to those from tuberculosis.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The famous Swedish statistician compares the amount of media coverage for swine flu to that of tuberculosis, normalised by the number of deaths caused by each in a two week period.

Obviously swine flu has pandemic potential and could still make a break for the big time, in substance if not in coverage alone.  But this is nonetheless a lovely measure of calm in the midst of an otherwise pandemic-crazy,  catastrophe prone outlook.

Many thanks to Infosthetics for the tip.


Politics, Open Source Warfare: IFTF 10 year forecast

May 9, 2009

politics

We continue our series reviewing key themes from The Institute for the Future’s latest 10 year forecast.  In this post, Politics: Open Source Warfare

The next theme we will be reviewing from the IFTF’s new 10 year forecast is that of Politics.

“Open source warfare leverages the tools and principles of social network technology to wage a new kind of warfare – sometimes called Fourth Generation warfare.”

The IFTF writes,

New model armies are changing the face of war and peace.  Non-institutional, non-state supported, these armies use network strategies to rapidly prototype their tools and tactics.  They learn from one another around the globe, raise their money and sell services in the market place, and focus on system disruption and meme warfare.  They are the face of the clash between traditional hieararchical institutions and a emerging network society, a clash that will spread across other domains.  In the coming decades they may catalyse resilience – or they may lead to political, social and economic auto-immune disorders worldwide.

Detailed sub-themes from this concept include:

  • New model armies: a new set of superempowered military actors – human and non-human, privately funded and thought state affiliation – exert influence beyond their size.
  • Meme warfare: using information and media to disrupt the so-called “soft infrastructure” in a battle for hearts and minds.
  • Open-source intelligence: a new discipline of intelligence focuses on open tools, resources and processes – including public media, Internet histories, and even public participants – to discern patterns of strategic importance.
  • Platforms for resilience: open-source intelligence, open-source simulations and models, and other cooperative tools help shift the focus of strategy from achieve stability to building a capacity to respond and adapt quickly.

One of HFP’s core research premise is that non-traditional actors will play an increasingly important role in both creating, and solving, new crises in the future.  Our work draws many of these themes together in specific humanitarian preparatory contexts, so it is thus quite rewarding to see similar streams of thought originating elsewhere.  This is a thread which we will continue to eagerly track.

Next in the series, Environment, The Blue Economy.


IFTF 10 year forecast: Civil Society, New Commons

May 5, 2009

newcommons

We continue our series reviewing key themes from The Institute for the Future’s latest 10 year forecast.  In this post, Civil Society: New Commons

The next theme we will be reviewing from the IFTF’s new 10 year forecast is that of culture.  The IFTF writes,

Even as our natural commons seem on the verge of collapse, a host of new commons offer an alternative look at capitalism: a new set of principles for organizing resources to meet the needs of human society in the 21st century.  Geographically agnostic, digitally supported, new commons are emerging as institutional forms that may well provide the resilience necessary for adapting our rapidly changing ecologies.

The IFTF goes on.  “New commons are shared resources that are managed from the bottom up to create new platforms for generating wealth and value – in the spaces between private and public, social and economic, digital and physical.”

Detailed topics include:

  • Identity commons: identity commons provide the tools for individuals to manage their online identities as a publicly accessible but privately maintained resource – freeing personal virtual identities from private Web sites.
  • Learning commons: learning commons generate sustainable resources, such as open-source curricula, open academic journals, and open databases – in response to failing public and private institutions.
  • Money commons: money commons pool financial resources using peer-to-peer strategies as alternative to traditional, more constrained financial instruments.
  • Infrastructure commons: peer-to-peer structures combine with new and old technologies to provide infrastructures that are communally shared and collectively managed.
  • Urban commons: urban commons layer information, media, and networks on the built environment to create new collectively maintained urban civic and cultural spaces.
  • Policy commons: policy commons leverage tools for electronic democracy as well as open-source social solutions platforms to provide richer policy discussions – and options.
  • Food commons: locally supported food production systems focus on biodiversity and genetic variability as a means of fostering sustainable food webs.
  • Biocommons: shared repositories of bio-information, from open pharmacy platforms to genetic genealogy and ethnobotanical databases, provide alternatives to patenting and privatisation of basic forms of life.
  • Health commons: health commons leverage the collective value of health and health care – from health and wellness “mobs” to bottom-up databases of treatment outcomes – to reinvigorate the global health infrastructure.

The Forecasts also includes two examples; Children’s Health Commons and Open Health.  The latter is quite interesting.

Open health is a paradigm shift in the global health economy, drawing on open innovation platforms, new health commons, and new forms of cross-institutional cooperation to create new health strategies and better outcomes at less expense.

From an HFP perspective the latter is particularly interesting.  Concepts such as the “Food commons” and “Infrastructure commons” seem somewhat rosy-eyed and overly optimistic.  Then we reflect on the very real and very “commons”, open sourced nature of projects such as the Appropedia, an open-source wiki for sustainable and appropriate technologies in development.  Appropedia is bottom-up, open sourced, and indeed a smashing example of “Infrastructure commons”.

Might other nascent examples of concepts in this theme already be found amongst us?  Might this not be so rosy-eyed after all?

Next in the series, Politics: Open Source Warfare.


IFTF 10 year forecast: Economics, Islamic Influence

April 30, 2009

economics_islamWe continue our series reviewing key themes from The Institute for the Future’s latest 10 year forecast.  In this post, Economics: Islamic Influence

The Forecast writes, “financial innovation creates new financial instruments – new kinds of mortgages, bonds, insurance, or even currencies, for example – as well as new kinds of capital.”

One in five people in the world is Muslim. Following the laws of Islam, Muslims eschew interest and avoid risk. But Muslim societies are entering into a global economy through new financial products and instruments – sukuk and takaful – that are designed to provide economic opportunities to Muslims in keeping with their faith. For a world in which many financial instruments have recently proven excessively risky, these products may also point to reforms that reach well beyond the Muslim world – and suggest new strategies for economic development worldwide.

The summary goes on to explore the following aspects of financial innovation:

  1. Islamic finance: innovation in Islamic financial instruments opens the global economy to the Muslim population – and also models possible financial reforms for non-Muslim investors.
  2. Alternative currencies: in online worlds as well as local communities, people experiment with leveraging alternative currencies to generate new wealth – and new exchanges with official currencies.
  3. Health as wealth: health becomes an investment and risk-management strategy for boomers as they strive to manage financial uncertainty and diminished assets.
  4. Health credits trading markets: personal health investments formalised and traded like personal carbon credits as people leverage health as a social good.

HFP has already seen examples of alternative currencies in play in local Transition Town economies.  The concept of health credits, combined with more stable fiscal influence, is a compelling alternative to current currency markets.

Next in the series we review,”Culture: New Commons.”