Get water shoes? climate change heightens ‘flood risk’ in Pakistan

Guest Contribution: Ahmad Ahsan

Torrential downpours flooded huge swaths of Northern Pakistan in July; leading to nearly 50 deaths and damage and destruction to residences, infrastructure, and crops. These rains came atop the monsoon season, which historically has been the harbinger of flooding for decades. Over to the East, monsoon fueled storms and floods have ripped through Nepal, Bangladesh, and India; displacing as much as 5 million people from their homes, and leaving well over 600 dead.

As with the rash of rains we saw in recent days, the factors that fueled flooding have been brewing for years in advance. Extreme rainfall aligns with the impact of climate change. It is crucial to point out that as the average temperature rises, the amount of moisture it can carry also increases. Researchers point out that for nearly every degree centigrade rise in temperature, seven percent more moisture can be absorbed by air. This moisture, in turn, is then released through progressively increasing precipitation.

The stage had been set with the melting of an above-normal snowpack earlier this year. Rains in the first quarter of the year caused rivers to swell, and higher than average temperatures led forecasters to realize that monsoon fueled rains would exacerbate the risk of riverine, urban, and flash flooding, due to isolated extreme precipitation events characterized by localized heavy downpours.  

This is evidenced by data from Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), which reported above normal precipitation in mountainous areas during winter, followed by above normal rainfall in February accompanied with higher than average temperatures. This trend continued, with temperatures above average by as much as 2oC in March, April, and May; leading to heat wave conditions developing in late May. The monsoon season has also witnessed variations in average temperature by 1oC-2oC. The department warned that warmer temperatures would increase glacial melt, and enhance water flow in rivers.

Irregular rains are likely to stress the cotton crop, and may exacerbate the ongoing drought in Baluchistan and Sindh post-monsoon. Areas of both provinces are expected to face “moderate” drought conditions by PMD. Even worse, these parts of the country may be moving toward a drought-to-deluge cycle, a phenomenon referred to as “Weather Whiplash”, which describes a cycle of extreme weather events rapidly shifting between two conditions. 

While no individual weather event can be attributed to climate change, in these things there are signs for those who understand. For example, the duration of heat waves has increased five times over the past three decades, while annual precipitation has shown higher variability and a slight overall increase. Rising temperatures will increase likelihood of heavy rainfall, and the severity of that rainfall, is also on the rise.

The consequences of climate change in the years to come include more extreme floods and droughts, accelerated melting of glaciers increasing the risk of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs). GLOFs occur when ices wall retaining a lake fail, sending humongous volumes of stored water downstream in a devastating flash flood. Pakistan, home to over 2000 glacial lakes, faces GLOF risks in the Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions where nearly 7 million are at risk. Accelerated glacial melting due to higher temperatures will not only increase the risk of glacial lake outburst flooding in Northern Pakistan, but could potentially alter of river flows, creating a high risk of inundation in densely populated and cultivated areas downstream. Another risk, often overlooked, is sediment deposition, which may increase the risk of flooding even at lower flows.

According to experts, the following years will see increasing rain instead of snow, wide yearly variations in precipitation, and varying intensity and frequency of extreme discharge events. River flood risk may double at the sub-national level within the next two decades, hitting Punjab and Sindh the hardest. Floods are the most common and destructive natural hazard in Pakistan, with 30 major floods having devastated the country over the past 65 years. Flooding has caused historic damages to the country; thousands of lives have been lost, and the economic impact is in the billions. From 1950 to 2016, around 15,000 fatalities were reported from riverine floods.

The 2010 “mega flood” impacted the lives of nearly 20 million people, or 10 percent of the country’s population. The 2010 floods alone are estimated to have caused losses worth $10.5 billion (or 6% of that year’s GDP) in lost productivity due to damages to infrastructure, agriculture, and ecosystem services. During the following 5 years, a major flood event occurred at least once each year; affecting at least 1 million people annually.

Flooding causes direct financial losses due to widespread damage to homes and infrastructure, and loss of livelihoods due to reductions in agricultural, livestock, and business productivity. The impacts on an already overloaded healthcare system, adverse effects on water and sanitation services, disruption of supply chains and public transport, and a host of interlinked social impacts make floods the most expensive natural disaster.

Given the significant damage and disruptions from floods over the past 50 years, Pakistan needs continuous improvement in flood risk management and reduction.

Over the years, major investments have been made to enhance flood protection infrastructure; however, increasing flood hazard risk due to climate change, and the probability of large scale flood exposure due to population growth and economic development necessitate additional protective measures.

These measures include complementing flood protection infrastructure with “soft” measures such as floodplain zoning, improved flood forecasting, and early warnings. Timely warnings during the 2010 flood allowed timely mitigation measures, thereby reducing downstream impact and economic loss. Construction of new reservoirs can help mitigate floods and seasonal flow variations due to climate change. It is crucial to point out that as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of floods, greater investment will be required in the years to come. Increased financing will be required for major infrastructure, reforms and institutional strengthening, urban services, flood mitigation, monitoring, early warning systems, and environmental management. From a legislative standpoint, land-use planning regulations with considerations for flood risk management should be adopted and implemented from the provincial level.

The widespread availability of Information and Communication Technologies, including mobile phones can be used to enhance water data management, modeling, flood risk mapping, and forecasting, at local, provincial, and federal levels. It will also strengthen the monitoring and reporting of water distribution and use; and improve data, modeling, and forecasting to guide preparedness and response to extreme events.

About the author: Ahmad Ahsan is a development sector professional with nearly a decade of experience in monitoring, evaluation, reporting, and communications. He has supported implementation of the World Bank’s Disaster and Climate Resilience Improvement Project and ADB’s Flood Emergency Reconstruction and Resilience Project in Pakistan.

Climate Action Now | Sustainabilitea with Dawar

In this new series, Green Box invites young changemakers for sustainabilitea with co-founder Mohsen Gul. Mohsen poses candid questions about their motivations, experiences and hurdles. Our next guest is Dawar Hameed Butt, a public policy specialist who is passionate about climate change resilience in Pakistan and has been an integral part of organising highly successful ‘Climate Action Now’ campaign in Pakistan, garnering interest and following from young people across the country.

Mo: Why Climate Action Now? What is so important about having such a campaign in today’s day and age? 

Dawar: There’s a very simple answer to this: because we will not have another chance. Pakistan still has a long way to go to in organizing for Climate Action as well as align our governance and policy trajectory to claim that we have done our part. With Climate Action Now, we have started a conversation between all stakeholders, including the government, to shift the narrative into the right direction.

Mo: Do you think Pakistan is ready for such a campaign? What are some of the key challenges you have faced in building momentum for the campaign?

Dawar: Frankly speaking, Pakistan should have been ready decades ago, but it still is not. We consider it an achievement that we managed to mobilize an estimated 15,000 people–when we tally our more than 40 city-wise marches–but at the same time, as a country which will be suffering the most from the climate crisis, the number is small. Let me elaborate this way: Karachi, a city of more than 20 million people witnessed a rainy season this year that was essentially once in 100 years event. 2 years ago, hundreds died from, again, a heat wave which has been a rare incident. This shows that 20 million people are already living through the climate crisis, which is going to get much worse. We estimate that 4,000-5,000 people showed up in Karachi. Of course, many factors affect this. But our aim is for a mass-movement, of hundreds of thousands demanding climate justice, simply because “business as usual” scenarios mean cities like Karachi may not have a future at all.Certainly, this would also require that the common citizen starts relating to the crisis, which they will only do once they understand it better. This is our biggest challenge.

Communicating climate crisis in Pakistan is being done from scratch, because previous similarly well-intentioned local initiatives have not worked. We have had to go to the extent of coining Urdu neologisms, because we want this to be a movement that people to own–rather than organizations, donors or government. Separately, if you have followed our social media, you would have noticed that the largest sub-group of participants is students. They have been manning shown dedication in campaigning, helping with communications, assisting logistics, and so on. The ultimate challenge is to make the movement sustainable enough that students can organize themselves, while we help in whatever way we can.

Mo: In a recent interview, you said decision makers in Pakistan do not fully understand the difference between climate change adaptation and pollution abatement/ control. Could you please explain this further?

Dawar: Yes, this actually stems from a frustration at how easily the two are mangled, which negatively impacts any initiative for educating citizens. While the government should encourage citizens to plant trees, reduce use of plastics, save water, etc, it should not give them the impression that it is in any way equivalent to actual climate resilience and mitigation, which comes in the form of renewable energy, sustainable smart cities, zeroing carbon emissions, taxing polluters, among other things. The solutions offered simply do not match the actual scale of the challenge at hand. Let’s assume all major Pakistani cities ban plastics; does that stop the Himalayan glaciers from melting? Of course not. We will be sending tens of thousands of diesel trucks through the northern areas. They will deposit tonnes of carbon soot and emit potent greenhouse gases, which will be accelerating the melt. Therefore, we need to differentiate between environmental issues and the climate crisis, because otherwise it does not create the necessary awareness and public dialogue to create the space needed for policy shifts.

Mo: What can individual young people can do to sustain the campaign movement at local, national and global levels?

Dawar: Well, to be fair, the idea behind any mass-movement is always to go beyond individual actions, and congregate in large enough numbers to trigger larger national or even transnational shifts. Most of those who did march during the climate strike were already conscientious about their carbon footprint and responsibilities, which also means that, say, if the City District Govt. of Lahore decides to bring in vehicle restrictions to mitigate air pollution then most citizens would adapt to it even if inconvenienced, because in the larger scheme of things, if benefits everyone. Climate Action Now, in this sense, is aimed at the root causes of these issues, while being prepared to play our own part. 

Mo: Do you think it is fair to expect young people to take lead of climate change issues which they may not have signed up for? 

Dawar: Perhaps, not entirely. But each generation has their challenges. Not all will come out to face them, but the numbers that are coming out are already larger than most expectations. This is also largely because the creativity and energy that can be channeled through young people can’t be matched by others. And, again, the question most of them ask themselves is “if not us then who?”

Mo: What’s next for Climate Action Now? How can young people of Pakistan help your vision? 

Dawar: Climate Action Now presented a comprehensive charter to government representatives, which included details of policy ideas, governance and administrative changes, demand for climate justice for developing states, and of adopting net-zero emissions. These are all items that can be tracked and this is exactly what we will be doing. Since, the Prime Minister himself has also demanded Climate Justice at the UN, it is all but necessary that Pakistan itself also shows that it is willing to make changes. Furthermore, we had region-based manifestos, because a diversity of climates means various cities and areas face different challenges, hence, at the provincial level, we will seek to mobilize for them in the coming few months. Lastly, we also recognize that currently Pakistan is not a major emitter of Carbon Dioxide, but at the same time, the MoCC estimates that we will be among the top ten within the next 10 years–a period which may the last chance for global warming to be limited to 1.5C rise. This is our national-level agenda, to prevent this from happening. There are innumerable ways for Pakistan to sustainably develop, but the changes required for it require a transition, which must begin immediately.

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Beti (Daughter) | Sustainabilitea with Ramma Shahid

In this new series, Green Box invites changemakers for sustainabilitea with co-founder Mohsen Gul. Mohsen poses candid questions about their motivations, experiences and hurdles. Our next guest is Ramma Shahid Cheema, founder of a media and advocacy campaign ‘Beti (Daughter)’ targeting misogyny and gender discrimination rooted in the cultural system in Pakistan.  

Mo: Why Beti? What is so important to highlight about young girls and women in Pakistan?

Ramma: I wish I could say that things have changed and more young girls and women are treated fairly and empowered. However, that is not the case. It is imperative that we change things because the majority of Pakistan is females yet very few are seen as active citizens. Their rights are taken away and they are pressurised to give up their dreams. Beti means daughter in Urdu language. For me it’s such a beautiful relation and with this name I want to invoke care into the hearts and minds of people in Pakistan for young girls and women. I know the name holds certain emotions for people and perhaps it would help change their behaviours. 

Mo: How did you come up with the idea of this campaign?

Ramma: Belonging from Chichawatni (Pakistan), I noticed misogyny from a very young age. Growing up I realized that young girls and women like me were never involved in decision-making. Our voices were always hushed by the male-dominated society, which led to the cultivation of gender inequality. I internalized misogyny and thought of myself as a lesser species. However, I was diagnosed with Endometriosis and went through infertility for 9 years. I had no choice but to work and my various working experiences gave me exposure and confidence. I knew I wanted to do something to change behaviours and in the last few months it became clear. I felt I was ready and I launched Beti. 

Mo: Tell us more about the documentary ‘Where have all the daughters gone?’ What inspired this title?

Ramma: I suppose the never decreasing rates of female infanticide in Pakistan. The fact that young girls are still conditioned to think they are inferior.

Mo: What are some of the key challenges you have faced in launching this campaign? Are some of these challenges gendered? 

Ramma: In all honesty women and men both encourage the unfair treatment. It is so embedded in the culture and their social practices that they never challenge it. Furthermore, I constantly get verbally abused and harassed for talking about Beti.

Mo: How are you leveraging partnerships on grassroots level for action?

Ramma: I am reaching out to the government and private educational institutions to hold interactive workshops. I am also curating content for social media and I hope that more and more people can view it and have access to it.

Mo: Is this a passion project for you or you wish to scale it up in Pakistan?

Ramma: I wish to take this forward and even take it Internationally. I have received similar notes of empathy from Canada, UK, India, UAE after they viewed my short film. Most women and young girls reach out to me from all over the world saying that they can draw similarities to the content shared on Beti.

Mo: What’s next for ‘Beti’? How can young men and women of Pakistan help your work?

Ramma: I desperately need all the help I can get. The message and call to action needs to be hammered because we as humans have very short memories. I do not have the capacity to keep it going in a single handed manner. I would greatly appreciate more collaboration, volunteers and awareness opportunities to share stories of so many daughters from not just Pakistan but all over the world. 

Mo: Please add anything else you wish to say. 

Ramma: My story of fighting against misogyny is not just mine. It happens in India, Bangladesh, Arab countries and so many more. The birth of female babies is still considered a financial and social burden. Family units are pressurised to keep having children until they have produced a son. Men and women are conditioned to think that male children are an asset and their preference is very common. The notion of honor and dishonor is still attached only to women and girls.

During the years 2000 to 2014, 1.2 million sex-selective abortions took place in Pakistan. The late humanitarian and philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi, introduced cradles outside all his centers so that unwanted infants would not be thrown into dumpsters. Sadly 95% of babies abandoned in the cradles are baby girls. No data is available to assess its real impact. Women have no reproductive rights. We collectively have to challenge this. 

Please support by liking and sharing ‘Beti’ on social media:






SAGE | Sustainabilitea with Kamal Sisters

In this new series, Green Box invites young changemakers for sustainabilitea with co-founder Mohsen Gul. Mohsen poses candid questions about their motivations, experiences and hurdles. Our next guests are Maha and Sauleha Kamal, a sister-duo who have co-founded SAGE (Solutions for a New Age) which aims to spark a national dialogue on the future of work in Pakistan.

Mo: Why SAGE? What is so important about future of work in Pakistan?

Kamals: SAGE (Solutions for a New Age) aims to spark a national dialogue on the future of work. There is a gap between the skills of the future that Pakistan needs, and what students are learning across the country. With education focused on the transfer of knowledge, key areas that are predicted to be crucial for the future are neglected: critical thinking, cultural agility, respect for diversity, working in cross-cultural teams, emotional intelligence, data analytics and conflict resolution, among others. Pakistan currently has one of the largest generations of young people, with the majority of the population under the age of thirty. These young people can be a great asset for the country, provided there is a focus on human development and the skills of the future. Current curricula are not evolving as fast as the nature of work. As such, other interventions are needed. While this issue is being taken up around the world, at the United Nations and World Economic Forum level, it does not feature prominently in our national discourse. This is especially troubling for a country with a population that is two-thirds youth.

Mo: Why are you both sisters are interested in this solution? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Kamals: As academics with experience teaching at leading public and private universities, both of us routinely interact with, and guide young people. We draw inspiration from our students – bright and curious about the world around them – who may not be adequately prepared for the world around them unless critical interventions are made in curricula – and in policy decisions on “reskilling” our young people.

We also see an increasingly polarized world where hatred is fuelled by ignorance and a lack of questioning about given information. What’s the best defence against manipulative fake news? Critical thinking, complex problem solving, judgment and decision-making. In the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, it will become critical to embrace what it means to be human through greater empathy – emotional intelligence, people management and service orientation are some skills which are critical for that.

Mo: What are some of the key challenges have you faced in establishing your venture? Are some of these challenges gendered? 

Kamals: SAGE is a very new initiative. Our current challenges in that arena revolve around getting the perspectives of young women in the current (limited) conversations on the future of work. However, it is indeed true that the challenges for women as far as the future of work is concerned are going to be a little different from the challenges men face. The rise of flexible remote work options might help women enter or re-enter the workforce particularly in a place like Pakistan where safe transport issues and societal constraints often keep women out of work. Women may be disproportionately affected by the fourth industrial revolution – gaps in STEM education, digital literacy and industrial challenges are some of the reasons why.

Mo: How are you leveraging partnerships on grassroots level for action?

Kamals: We have found that there are a number of great organizations working at the grassroots level. Leveraging partnerships with existing organizations not only helps support the local ecosystem but also allows us to reach out to a diverse set of people. For instance, our partnerships with Global Shapers Islamabad – a community of the World Economic Forum –  and Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) proved vital for the Future of the Leaders Bootcamp that we recently held in Islamabad, with the support of the British Council Pakistan’s UK Alumni Scholarship.

In the future, we hope to collaborate and explore synergies with other like-minded organizations. At the end of the day, however, one on one interactions with people on the ground prove the most invigorating.

Mo: If this a passion project for you or you wish to scale it up in Pakistan?

Kamals: A bit of both. It’s driven by passion but we do dream of scaling it up. We believe any endeavour must be rooted in passion for it to succeed. While passion projects require a lot of faith, we like to think of things in the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, who famously saidNever doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Mo: What’s next for SAGE? How can young people of Pakistan help your work?

Kamals: SAGE is for young people by young people. We aim to change the misconceptions surrounding “soft skills” and aim to equip young people with what Dr. Hanlon (President, Dartmouth College) calls “power skills.” We’re transitioning from a non-profit to a social enterprise model where we aim to empower young people to take ownership of their future. Towards this end, we aim to conduct training for diverse groups who may not have access to such platforms. We aim to provide individualized consulting services, and are in conversation to branch into corporate training for business sustainability.

Show their initiative your support by following it on Facebook

Water on Wheels | Sustainabilitea with Bilal Bin Saqib

In this new series, Green Box invites young changemakers for sustainabilitea with Co-founder Mohsen Gul. Mohsen poses candid questions about their motivations, experiences and hurdles. Our first guest is Bilal Bin Saqib, an emerging thought leader who has co-founded which aims to improve the lives of millions of unprivileged Pakistanis by providing effective solutions to overcome the water crisis. We talk to him about their innovation ‘H2O on wheel’ which helps reduce burden of carrying water in rural Pakistan by women and children who generally have to carry water for 3-­5km and up to four hours, each day.

Mo: Why water? How did the idea of having a solution of wheels come through?

Bilal: In 2015, I was visiting Burkina Faso for one of my business projects and I saw some women there carrying water in a water wheel and upon inquiry I got to know that an NGO provides these devices to people who have to walk for hours, along long distances to fetch and collect water. I came back to Pakistan and realised that certain areas in Pakistan have a similar problem and women and children every single day go out and fetch water and spend most part of their day, carrying water in mud matkas or heavy containers on their heads. They collect water on the cost of their precious time and physical effort.

Upon research, I got to know that water-scarcity is a bigger threat to Pakistan than terrorism as IMF reports that Pakistan will run out of water by the end of 2025. Around 22 million people in Pakistan have no access to safe, clean drinking water because of poor water-infrastructure and insufficient measures of water storage. 53,000 children die of water-borne diseases every year in Pakistan reported by UNICEF.

Hence, I decided to introduce a similar initiative in Pakistan to help women and children carry water easily and save their time and efforts in doing so. Hence, with the help of some friends and connections, we developed this water wheel, named it as H2O wheel which stands for Help 2 Others and since then, doing our best to help the water-deprived population in Pakistan.

Mo: If you had to describe the journey of the wheel to date in a word/ phrase, what would it be? Why did you choose that?

Bilal: Changing lives of people one H2O wheel at a time.

I chose that because we are directly changing lives of thousands of people by not just helping them to collect water only but also helping them to save their time and effort that can be better utilised in other productive activities which can further lead to the community development as a whole.  

Mo: What are some of the key challenges have you faced in rolling the wheels out?

Bilal: To name a few: unable to get donors, and geographical challenges and partnership issues. Otherwise the rolling of wheels has remained very smooth people loved it especially the target audience.

Mo: How did you leverage partnerships on grassroots level for action?

Bilal: We have some distribution partners. Organisations who are working on similar issues, taking their expertise and utilising that in our mission.

Mo: Is this a passion project for you or you wish to scale it up in Pakistan?

Bilal: This project is not just a project for me, it is an organisation of people for people. And I founded it as part of the purpose of my life, which is not happiness but to be useful. Hence, I want to scale it up in other regions of Pakistan to bring the skills of our volunteers and team members in use for those who are not as privileged as we are.

Mo: What’s next for How can young people of Pakistan help your work?

Bilal: Pakistan is not only one of the youngest countries in its region but is classified as a developing country in the exceedingly progressive world. Sixty-four per cent of the country’s population is under the age of 29, with some 30 per cent between the ages of 15 and 29. Hence, I want to make Tayaba a think-tank which calls for youngsters with diverse skills and each of the skill must be utilised in creating solutions to problems and providing assistance to the government to tackle the issues not just related to water but of hunger, poverty, development and other related fields. We have so much potential among our youth and Tayaba has always a room for people that are passionate for people, helping and uplifting each other for the development of the community.

Read about Bilal and his team’s work here:

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Can a living lab foster climate resilience in Punjab?

Pakistan faces a major climate change challenge. A concerted effort by the government and civil society at all levels is required to mitigate these threats. In the last 50 years, the annual mean temperature in Pakistan has increased by roughly 0.5°C. The number of heat wave days per year has increased nearly fivefold in the last 30 years. Annual precipitation has historically shown high variability but has slightly increased in the last 50 years. By the end of this century, the annual mean temperature in Pakistan is expected to rise by 3°C to 5°C for a central global emissions scenario, while higher global emissions may yield a rise of 4°C to 6°C. Average annual rainfall is not expected to have a significant long-term trend, but is expected to exhibit large inter-annual variability.

Under future climate change scenarios, Pakistan is expected to experience increased variability of river flows due to increased variability of precipitation and the melting of glaciers. Demand for irrigation water may increase due to higher evaporation rates. Yields of wheat and basmati rice are expected to decline and may drive production northward, subject to water availability. Water availability for hydropower generation may decline. Hotter temperatures are likely to increase energy demand due to increased air conditioning requirements. Warmer air and water temperatures may decrease the efficiency of nuclear and thermal power plant generation. Mortality due to extreme heat waves may increase. Urban drainage systems may be further stressed by high rainfall and flash floods. Sea level rise and storm surges may adversely affect coastal infrastructure and livelihoods.

Adapting to these impacts may include: development or use of crop varieties with greater heat and drought tolerance, modernizing irrigation infrastructure and employing water-saving technologies, integrated watershed management, reforestation of catchment areas and construction of additional water storage, diversification of energy mix including investment in renewable and small hydropower projects, improved weather forecasting and warning systems, retrofitting of critical energy infrastructure, and construction of dikes or sea walls (ADB, 2017).

Pakistan is ranked in the lowest 25% of countries in terms of the Food Production Index (FPI) and a downward trend is observed in the production of nutritional foods (FAO, 2013). This decrease can be attributed to linkage between climate change and declines in agricultural productivity and food security (Dehlavi, et al., 2015). The upper Indus Ecoregion is characterized by extreme poverty and frequent interruption to livelihood generation means due to natural and climate related hazards. There is an absence in Pakistan of adjustment channels in climate change adaptation strategies leading to augmented discretionary food income and other livelihoods.

There is an unprecedented need to develop and test viable, low-cost and easy to monitor solutions to improve outreach and help enhance the resilience of vulnerable communities to climate change related impacts on their yields, income, and nutrition status (OECD/FAO, 2012) in Pakistan especially in the agriculturally productive areas in Punjab. Use of such approaches are recommended by the newly ratified Sustainable Development Goals with SDG Target 13.b focusing on promotion of mechanisms for increasing the capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in the least developed countries, including a focus on women, youth and local and marginalized communities. This is in line with the federal and provincial governments’ mandate to embed climate change mitigation and adaptation plans in policy and programmatic interventions at all levels.

Research conducted by experts at the Green Box indicates need to engage local communities in designing climate resilient agriculture practices, alternate livelihood techniques, advocacy campaigning and policy making.

A Climate Resilience Lab for Punjab province is being built by Green Box as a pilot living laboratory for local communities and key stakeholders to network, co-create and crowd source indigenous climate adaptation solutions and share real-time learning for effective resilience management nationwide.

Jhang district is the network hub for the Lab. It is ideally located to build on expertise of leading regional universities like University of Agriculture Faisalabad and Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan; access rural areas, farming sites and local farmer communities; rich cultural heritage and ownership for agricultural development in Punjab. Furthermore, the Lab is well suited to expand technical and operational expertise of local talent, public and private stakeholders in leading climate change adaptation and resilience building in Pakistan.

The Lab is structured on partnership and collaboration model allowing synergies to be built across stakeholder spectrum. Green Box Pakistan will provide strategic and operation lead for the Lab’s inception and pilot phase. The Lab will develop partnerships with field experts and leading sector organisations to provide functional and monetary support to the Lab. Internal and external funding sources will be tapped in to seek budget for the pilot phase of the Lab.

What do you think about the climate resilience lab? Would it work or not? How can you help?

Is Artificial Intelligence the frontier solution to Global South’s wicked development challenges?

Co-authored with Mohsen Gul (University of Nottingham). This is based on research conducted for UNDP Innovation Unit Africa.

For the purpose of this article, the Global South refers to countries in Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia including the Middle East.

1 Current Landscape

To date almost all of research work has been focused on the implications of frontier technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, automation and Internet of Things (IoT) for people living in higher income countries such as the EU, UK and US. The focus of this article is to identify key examples on the impact of artificial intelligence as a frontier technology on citizen engagement in low and middle-income countries for whom many of the same opportunities and risks apply as in the higher-income courtiers (often to a greater extent), along with additional opportunities and risks unique to these countries.

According to PWC (2017), China stands to see the biggest economic gains with AI enhancing GDP by 14.5% in the coming years but it notes that most of the other developing countries will experience more modest increases due to the much lower rates of adoption of AI technologies expected. China’s State Council has recently issued guidelines on AI development wherein it is aiming to become a global innovation centre in the field by 2030, with an estimated total output value of the AI industry projected at $147 billion. China Artificial Intelligence Industry Innovation Alliance (CAIIIA) was set up in 2017. The newly formed alliance set a target to incubate 50 AI-enabled products and 40 firms, launch 20 pilot projects, and set up a technology platform in the next three years. Singapore recently announced plans to invest over $100 million in AI over the next five years. Measured by patents filed, from 2010–14, China was second submitting 8,410 AI applications. During this period, Japan and Republic of Korea submitted 2,071 and 1,533 respectively. India was also among the top 10 countries globally in terms of numbers of patents submitted. In addition, China and India are among the top 10 countries in terms of the number of AI companies (ESCAP, 2017).

There are plenty of instances where AI is being used to improve delivery of public services and public goods in low and middle-income countries, ranging from pilot projects to larger scale roll out. AI seems particularly fit for simplifying transactions on government websites. AI has also been deployed as a response to public health concerns, such as to anticipate outbreaks of diseases such as Zika and dengue fever. For example, the Brazilian NGO Viva Rio partnered with start-up AIME (Artificial Intelligence in Medical Epidemiology) which analyses existing local government datasets in combination with satellite image recognition systems to deploy low cost predictions of where we should expect greater incidence of disease in an upcoming three-month period. Notably, the technology was designed to work in Malaysia, but it had success rates of 84% diagnosis in Brazilian trials. Following its low-cost success in Brazil, AIME has been deployed in Dominican Republic.

In other cases, AI has been used to improve police coverage, such as in dealing with transit issues. In Uganda, AI is used to advise individuals or emergency vehicles on optimal routes, dynamically redeploying a limited number of traffic police officials, and analysing possible reconfigurations of the road network to remove bottlenecks. In other cases, it has been used for environmental ends. In Kenya, for example, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) supports the use of an AI device with drones. After nine months, over a dozen hunters had been apprehended in the Maasai Mara. WWF has received a $5 million grant from to employ this AI-powered device to protect wildlife. AI has also been used for agricultural matters, including identifying crop disease with a smartphone. Mcrops, developed in Uganda, is a diagnostic tool for diagnosing viral crop diseases in cassava plants. Sick plants are flagged in real time, which allows farmers to take action and stop the spread of the disease. In Nigeria, AI is being employed to help farmers sell their produce and buy services via a bot platform that relies on SMS and other channels such as USSD, Slack, etc.

AI has also been used to prevent and predict natural disasters. The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre has an on-going project with Togo’s Nangbéto Dam, which frequently overspills, causing great disruption to the livelihoods of people living downstream. In the past models were poor at predicting the likelihood of overspill but using a combination of crowdsourced information (including by mobile phone) and AI techniques, an improved model of overspill prediction was developed. Also, the Netherlands Red Cross’ data initiative has developed models using data from previous natural catastrophes to allow better resource management and prioritization of aid. It was employed after Typhoon Haima in the Philippines in 2016 and proven to be accurate after a comparison with data on damaged property.

AI-based automated translation and voice recognition systems are also emerging which can have significant impact in countries with multiple languages. This is the case for numerous low and middle-income countries, including India, Indonesia and Nigeria. These systems could also have an impact in places with high levels of illiteracy, allowing people to engage with the government or public service provision interfaces by spoken rather than by written means. This would particularly benefit marginalised groups who experience disproportionate rates of illiteracy. Some of the examples of automated translation and voice recognition systems include ‘Translator Gator’ developed by Pulse Lab Jakarta (Indonesia) to invites people to create taxonomies, or collections of keywords, in lesser-known languages and dialects, and ‘Conversations as a Platform’ developed by Microsoft and Government of Singapore to represent a fundamental shift where the power of human language will be used to make chatbots more anticipatory, accessible, engaging and inclusive for citizens and constituents.

Some case studies are discussed in detail in the next section. For each case study, information about geographical coverage and scale of operation is provided.

1.1 Case Studies

1.1.1 Asia

AI for Parliament in Japan (Japan, Asia; Scale: Pilot)

The Japanese Government is trialing artificial intelligence to help officials draft responses submitted to the parliament. The tech would help officials draft responses used in policy-making, by mining past opinions on policy issues and alternative suggestions voiced out by officials during parliament. The government will first feed five years’ worth of parliament agenda summaries to the system before it churns out responses.

Based on trial results, Tokyo will then expand the use of AI in other branches of government. The government has launched a broad plan to use AI and robotics across public services. Called “Society 5.0”, the government envisions using science and technology [to] play even more key roles in tackling challenges like ageing, sluggish productivity growth and enhancing [the] wellbeing of humans.

Singapore’s Dengue Risk Map (Singapore, Asia; Scale: Operational)

As a tropical country, Singapore faces seasonal bouts of dengue cases, peaking in the warmer months of June to October. The country’s main strategy is to carry out preventive surveillance of dengue hotspots. However, this is labour-intensive, and drains an already limited pool of skilled vector control officers. So, the Government decided to use data to identify the areas most at risk of dengue — and help the agency deploy officers more effectively.

The team used a machine-learning model to create a colour-coded risk map. The model analyses data from various agencies to rank the overall risk of dengue across the entire country. These data include past dengue cases from the Ministry of Health; population estimates from Singstat; vegetation indices from the Centre for Remote Imaging Sensing & Processing at the National University of Singapore; public transport information from Future City Lab ETH-NUS; and mosquito population data from NEA’s surveillance programme.

The risk map also enables targeted publicity campaigns — for example, placing advertisements about dengue prevention at bus stops in high-risk towns. The project won Best Use of Data at the GovInsider Innovation Awards, held at Innovation Labs World in 2017.

mAadhaar app (India, Asia; Scale: Operational)

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has launched the mAadhaar app, which allows users to carry digital versions of their identification profiles on their phones. Users of the app may download their Aadhaar number profiles on their smartphones and will therefore not need to carry the physical cards with them, The Economic Times reported. The Aadhaar number is a 12-digit random identification number issued by the UIDAI to Indian citizens, which is linked to basic demographic information such as name and date of birth, and biometric information such as fingerprints and iris scans. These data are stored in a centralised biometric ID database. The Aadhaar system has over 1.1 billion citizens enrolled, and is saving current administration about US$2 billion a year.

In November 2017, The Ministry of Commerce and Industry in India has set up a Task force on Artificial Intelligence to kick-start the use of AI for India’s economic transformation.

SAAD (Dubai) (United Arab Emirates, Asia; Scale: Operational)

The city’s first government service utilising artificial intelligence, powered by IBM Watson. It was aimed at allowing entrepreneurs and investors to ask questions related to setting up a business in Dubai, and to get real-time responses on various topics, including business licensing requirements and registration processes. “Saad” is designed to understand natural language and ingest and comprehend massive amounts of data, learn and reason from its interactions, and provide responses that will aid users in deciding on correct courses of action.

VAMPIRE tool (Indonesia, Asia; Scale: Operational)

Indonesia is under threat of food insecurity and undernutrition, and faces “alarmingly high” stunting levels. Pulse Lab Jakarta joined forces with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation to develop a platform that identifies affected communities in need of help. The VAMPIRE visualisation tool combines data in several layers: users can view where food-insecure and agriculture-dependant communities live; data on rainfall anomalies and vegetation health; and crowdsourced prices of staple foods in these areas. VAMPIRE, which is installed in the President’s situation room, is “an early warning system” for authorities to manage food security and better allocate resources. Following VAMPIRE’s success in Indonesia, WFP is now in discussions with the Sri Lankan government to have it installed there too.

Bindez (Myanmar, Asia; Scale: Operational)

Bindez emerged out of a challenge that has faced many countries coming online in the last few decades: how to make their countries languages talk with computers. Bindez is an acronym for Burmese Index, a project that started as a local language search engine by 2 Burmese techies Yewint Ko and Htet Will in mid-2013, shortly after the country had opened up to new technology, and content consumption needs became evident. It now uses natural language processing and text analysis to track online hate speech.

1.1.2 Africa

Sustainability and Artificial Intelligence Lab (Africa; Scale: Operational)

The Lab is combining satellite imagery and machine learning to predict poverty. Using the final model that has been trained on survey data, it can estimate per capita consumption expenditure for any location where we have daytime satellite imagery. The Lab is commissioned by Stanford’s Global Development and Poverty Initiative and partially supported by the National Science Foundation.

Robotic Pharmacists for HIV Patients (South Africa, Africa; Scale: Pilot)

Robotic pharmacists are dispensing drugs to people with HIV on the streets of South Africa. The country has the highest number of people living with HIV — 7 million. However, 3.3 million people are not on drugs they should be, according to South Africa’s Department of Health. In the past, the antiretroviral drugs have been available only via expensive and private care.

The robots will not reveal patient identity helping to remove any social stigma associated with the disease. It will also dispense medicines also for other patients with chronic diseases like TB. With the robot dispenser, patients may no longer need to wait for hours at hospitals or clinics to get their monthly dose. The pilot is run by the Right to Care project in Helen Joseph Hospital, Johannesburg funded by the Department of Health and non-profit The Global Fund.

Similar Initiative: Nigerian startup Aajoh uses artificial intelligence to help individuals that send a list of their symptoms via text, audio and photographs, to diagnose their medical condition.

1.1.3 Central and South America

Rosie (Brazil, S. America; Scale: Operational)

In Brazil, a group of data-analysis experts has used artificial intelligence techniques to monitor public officials. They focused on limiting fraud among members of congress seeking reimbursements for their travel and food expenses; after getting crowdfunding for the startup costs, they created Rosie, an Artificial Intelligence robot that analyzes the reimbursement requests of lawmakers and calculates the probability that they are justified. To no one’s surprise, Rosie found that the deputies often cheated.

Similar Initiative: The Serious Fraud Office in the UK developed a robot with help of AI startup RAVN which then helped the government’s law enforcement arm sift, index and summarise 30 million documents relating to fraud investigations.

CitymisVis (Argentina, S. America; Scale: Operational)

An interactive tool developed by Government of Argentina in collaboration with Microsoft Latin America that allows citizens to report and track problems from poor street infrastructure to deficient urban sanitation. Through this tool, municipalities listen and respond to requests and complaints from the citizens. As a result of the successful adoption of Citymis Community in several municipalities, large amounts of data are daily generated, which require analysis by the corresponding service departments. The intelligent analysis of citizen requests and complaints can lead to improved levels of service coordination and can help in the decision-making process by relevant authorities.

Minecraft (Mexico, C. America; Scale: Operational)

A United Nations initiative is using the computer game Minecraft to help citizens design public spaces in more than 25 developing countries including Mexico. Called Block by Block, the UN project turned the game into a ‘community participation tool’ in urban design, with a focus on poor communities. Minecraft is the world’s second best-selling videogame of all time. In the game, players use textured cubes to build a virtual world. According to Microsoft Research’s Cambridge lab, people build amazing structures that do amazing things in Minecraft, and this allows experimenters to put in tasks that will stretch AI technology beyond its current capacity.

Elefantes Blancos App (Columbia, C. America; Scale: Operational

$163 million in public works corruption and inefficiencies has been identified citizens using the smartphone app, Elefantes Blancos (White Elephants). The smartphone app was introduced in 2013 by Colombia’s Transparency Secretariat and since that time 54 “white elephant” projects — those projects perceived by citizens as public works that were languishing, unfinished or abandoned — have been identified. 15 of the projects worth more than $400,000 were completed with pressure from the Transparency Secretariat, 27 are under prosecution and 12 projects are currently being investigated (Guay, 2017).

Citizens can download the app to their smartphone and then upload photos of the unfinished public projects. Users can vote on the most problematic projects, and the app determines location and frequency of reporting for each project. The Transparency Secretariat then begins the process of assessing the projects for corruption. While the Transparency Secretariat cannot prosecute cases, the Elefantes Blancos app has proven its value, and control of the app will be transferred to the local comptroller — the comptroller has the legal authority to prosecute corruption.

1.1.4 Challenges

It is important to note that countries in this geographical region are diverse politically, economically and socially. Hence, AI technologies pose several challenges at national and regional levels. Some of the key impediments identified include:

  • A possible frontier technology divide emerging with advanced economies like Singapore and Indonesia investing in technological leapfrogging at astonishing rates, leaving others in the region at a risk of being left behind
  • Imbued trust deficit amongst countries, private and development sectors exists regarding use and abuse of such technologies and associated data
  • Limited technical capacity of governments and policymakers in developing technologically advanced governance solutions is leading to overdependence on donor agencies and other developed countries
  • Limited research and baseline data are available to prioritise infrastructural elements of national and regional decision support systems
  • A potential concern about technological unemployment persists due to surge in technological adaptation.

The article acknowledges that some countries in the Global South are leading from the front and are forecast to be the major market of the future. This prominent position means it is prudent for governments to think carefully about the policy priorities and issues raised in this article to address ethical issues, ensure development of an adaptable workforce for the future, and put in place regional level systems to allow sustainable technological innovation.

GBox Sustainability Prize Entry: An unexpected day at the green circle

This winning entry is written by Naba Batool from the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore. Naba has won GBox Sustainability Prize under Sustainable Writing Competition arranged in colloboration with EPS Times at GC University Lahore.

A warm sunny day, it was. Shayan got up early in the morning. After brushing his teeth, he didn’t close the tap tightly. There was some noise of water flowing down the tub in the washroom. He ate breakfast, left the dishes in the sink. A tiny trail of water was flowing through the tap. Shayan left his cottage for a morning stroll and took off the tracks that lead him right in the middle of the jungle to his favorite spot “The Green Circle”. A lush green sphere of tall trees circling the glittering water in the centre. It was a magnificent piece of work by Mother Nature. With the rise of the sun, rays would fall onto the water, making the water flicker. Shayan was always struck by the glory of this place, so alone yet so combine. He sat there, feet in the water, meditating. Seconds turned into minutes. He could feel time solidifying, leaving no trail but significance somehow. It was that moment that he heard or at least he thought he heard a gurgle in the water ; he thought it was a fish. Astonished and surprised Shayan was, by hearing another gurgle, this time with a huge disturbance in the water, followed by a splash. When the water settled down, it was then he realized someone was behind him.

It was a creature he had never seen before or ever had imagined having an encounter with. Someone literally and physically “so out of this world”. The ankles which he dared to observe in his first glance were swollen and the feet were fin shaped. As he examined the creature more vividly, the sense of strangeness progressed. The skin was covered with grey scales and Shayan could feel the coarseness, even from a distance. The eyes, carrying no cornea, were bulging and color was red as blood. Only then it dawned upon Shayan, it was the creature mankind was warned about, since the beginning of the sense of time; an invader; an alien. A chilling sensation went down his spine. He gathered all his strength and commanded his muscles to move and run, but all in vain. Shayan was frozen with fear.

The creature’s soulless lips were shaking. Shayan was stunned. The stranger was trying to stir a conversation. A conversation! Conversation with a creature, from God knows where, was one of the least possible things that can happen on Shayan’s list of “Impossible things that could happen in this lifetime.” “Who are you?” Shayan questioned first. “I assume you do have know-how.” A mechanical voice answered. “What are you doing here on Earth?”  Another question from Shayan’s side. “My presence here strictly announces the devastation my home has suffered from. A meteor hit us and fell into our aquatic resources. We are facing a serious threat to our water resources and if steps are not taken immediately, we might get deprived of water. My visit to this planet is to gather information about the aquatic resources present here, so that we can save our planet.” “Then what will happen to us. We need water as well.” “Do you?” The creature cross questioned Shayan. “By the way you are treating or one should say exploiting these valuable resources, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how much you people value such blessings.” Flabbergasted by its comments Shayan protested in a mild tone “What do you mean?” “O! You ignorant little thing! You are perfectly aware of the ongoing fiasco, aren’t you? You know exactly what is going on and who has caused this, yet you show signs of ignorance and negligence. You humans are such a piece of work!”  The creature roared. Shayan was scared to death both by the highly impossible yet seemingly possible presence of the creature as well as with the revelations.  It was not that Shayan was unaware of what was happening.  It was the unflinching heedlessness that was common in him like all the others. He was one of those people who would curse the government with all their might but will never lift a finger to try to rectify what was going wrong. “If you took all of the water what will we do then?” Shayan was frightened. “You have shattered the praised-worthy blessings. You humans are no worthy of such resources. You don’t know how to take care of a gift nature has presented you with.”So what will you do now? Will you take all the water from earth?” “We know how to take care of a present. We will cherish this gift. Unlike you ignorant selves we will never abandon such precious resources.” “Will you give us time to make up our mind?” You have already been given enough time. Enough with the countdown. It’s time to take action!  In a time span of 24 hours we will settle here and pay tribute to water; a saving grace for all the lives. We will make efficient use of these resources and will never jeopardize them like you people have done.” With that last remark the creature fell into the lake and disappeared. His disappearance was followed by another huge water splash. Shayan broke down in tears. He was terrified. He started to run as far he could, as fast he could. Wrath was following him. He ran with all the power in his legs and in his muscles. He became entangled in one of the bushes and fell.

Shayan woke up in his bed, screaming with terror. His forehead was dripping with sweat. His shirt was wet. He was shivering. His pulse was elevated. It was a dream, a nightmare to be precise, yet it felt so real. He could hear the noise of water flowing from the tap, form the tub. He dashed to the ground floor, tightly closed the tap. Then he ran to the bathroom. The water from the tub was overflowing. He firmly closed the tap. His legs were unable to carry his burden. He fell on the ground and broke down in tears. He had learnt his lesson.

Water! A necessity for life to exist, yet we exhibit such rashness towards it. It is a gift from heavens. We need to relish it with utmost care and concern. We don’t always get a chance to wake up from a dream and rectify what was done wrong from the start. The sooner the better.

The bitter reality of sweet candies

Guest Contributor: Amna Haq

Candies, the mere mention reminds us of all sweet things. These sweet delightful delicacies are irresistible even for adults. But what we often overlook is the fact that these tiny, sugary, crystals in fact contains toxins in various forms, be it artificial flavorings, food color or the pigments in wrapper. Candies mostly made by local, lesser known manufacturers are the main hub of toxins like lead, nickel etc.

A research was conducted regarding “Monitoring of heavy metals on locally available unbranded candies in Karachi” at the Karachi University’s Institute of Environmental Studies by Dr Aamir Alamgir and Syeda Urooj Fatima under the supervision of Prof Moazzam Ali Khan.

For this, forty-six samples of flavored candies made by lesser known manufacturers from areas like Hyderi, Jodia Bazaar, Saddar, Quaidabad, Liaquatabad and Orangi Town were collected and analyzed to check presence of lead, nickel, arsenic, chromium and iron.

According to the study’s findings, metal concentration in sampled sweets ranged from 0.32ppm to 4.12ppm for lead, 0.034ppm to 2.98ppm for nickel, 0.091ppm for maximum arsenic level, 0.22ppm for chromium and 0.034ppm to 3.06ppm for iron. On comparing these concentrations to WHO and FAO standards these were found to be crossing the standard values. As ranges set by WHO for lead is 0.1ppm, 0.2ppm for nickel, 0.1ppm for arsenic and 2-5 ppm for iron respectively.

It was found that herbal and spicy flavored candies or those that had yellow or green colored wrappers contained higher metal contamination than others indicating that contamination might have occurred from wrappers. According to the study, metal contamination may have made its way by using; substandard raw material, food additives, artificial colorings and flavors or during the manufacturing process in form of utensils used, type of wrappers or even the ink used for packaging and improper storage conditions. Also, it is to be noted that all the samples were missing list of ingredients they were made from.

Reason as to why only unbranded sweets were tested was that, as candies main consumer are children and regular consumption of it aided by irregular diet, malnutrition and low immunity levels pose serious threat to their health thus making them center of the research.

Since lead and nickel both are potential carcinogens especially for children. Effects of these can sometimes permanently damage vital organs like nervous system resulting in sleep, behavioral problems, cramps, constipation and headaches. The researchers found that generally these lesser quality, unbranded candies are cheap costing not more than
Rs2 and usually list of ingredients is absent.

Dr Qaiser Sajjad of the Pakistan Medical Association said it was the responsibility of the provincial food and health departments to ensure whatever food was available in the market was safe. Monitoring of what is going in market is essential in this regard and must be done for insurance of safe health of children that are our future. In many countries for
lead chromate is banned but unfortunately in Pakistan it is till being used for candy wrappings. So, measure must be taken and is a national responsibility.