Fast-growing cities and urban areas in the global South can be vulnerable because they lack the web of structures and institutions that enable more long-established cities to mitigate risks and, when a disaster does strike, to bounce back quickly. But thanks to many new technologies, and some smart new thinking, it is possible to bring resilience to even the poorest and most deprived urban communities.
The essence of resilience is to build into plans and daily activities a community’s ability to weather any disaster, small or large. All cities, rich or poor, can experience a disaster of some sort, be it weather, civil unrest, war, earthquakes, shortages, or economic, financial and health crises. New technologies make it possible for all cities, no matter how poor and overcrowded, to build in urban resilience. The ubiquity of mobile phones introduces a powerful city and urban planning tool. Mapping chaotic and unplanned areas is already underway in many cities of the global South (in Brazil and Kenya for example (http://tinyurl.com/qgba8kb).
Impressively, innovators in the South are using affordable microelectronics in the form of mobile phones and laptops to gather data and map it. This computing capability was once the sole domain of big information technology companies such as IBM. Now, a single laptop computer combined with a smartphone equipped with the right software can manage a large urban area, a task that once required rooms full of computers. The data can then be used to manage growth today and re-build after a disaster. Any excuse not to be resilient has been wiped out with this technological leap.
But how to deal with the common reality of feeling overwhelmed by the many obstacles to rational planning and building for urban growth in the South? Innovators have stepped in to take matters into their own hands with simple construction technologies as the solution. One example is the Moladi system of recycled plastic moulds (moladi.net). Anybody can master this simple building technique, as the mortar-filled moulds are designed to fit easily together to construct an earthquake-resistant, beautiful home.
This approach has the advantage of bypassing the failings of authorities to enforce building codes and standards in poor, urban communities, creating safer places to live and preventing the growth of unregulated shanty towns at risk to fire and earthquakes.
Others have found social ways to organize people, even in the most desperate of conditions, providing services and laying down the groundwork for an upgrading of an urban area to improve living conditions and long-term opportunities. The concept of ‘cities for all’ has inspired many to re-energize civic organizations and networking in poor areas to ensure they are not left out of economic growth. In Colombia, a famous example of this is the escalator in the city of Medellin, which connects a hillside slum to the centre of the city, opening up economic opportunities to all (http://tinyurl.com/nm47d3u).
Still more exciting, new technologies are in the works to simplify construction of major infrastructure and new buildings. A future city will be able to gather extensive data on an expanding urban area, make detailed development plans with architects and engineers, and then have robots and 3D fabricating machines quickly lay down infrastructure and erect buildings. Sounds far-fetched? Well, in China one company recently used a 3D machine to make 10 houses in a single day (http://www.yhbm.com/index.aspx).
An infographic from Southern Innovator’s fourth issue (http:// tinyurl.com/m9vfwur) shows 10 ways any urban area – either planned or unplanned – can build in resilience. All are proven approaches from cities in the global South.
Innovators working in the global green economy could benefit from over US $450 million in investment recently pledged at the UN’s Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) held in Nairobi, Kenya.
A combination of green investors, businesses, governments and others came together at the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) headquarters in the Kenyan capital from 28 October to 1 November 2013 to share solutions and strike deals and partnerships.
The event represented a significant turning point in awareness of the role played by the global South’s innovators in global development and growing economies. The quantity of pledges and investment deals struck at the Expo bodes well for the future of south-south solution sharing.
Organized by the UN’s Office for South-South Cooperation in UNDP (UNOSSC) (southsouthexpo.org) and hosted by UNEP (unep.org) under the theme “Building inclusive green economies”, the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the world’s biggest event for development solutions created in the South for the South.
“The theme of this year’s Expo is fitting in that Southern countries have both the opportunity and the obligation to pursue a ‘smarter’ development course than their predecessors,” said General Assembly President John Ashe.
Examples of the investment deals struck include helping to build organic fertilizer factories and constructing solar power plants in Kenya, and growing green business ventures for women in Egypt.
South-South cooperation is the exchange of resources, technology and knowledge between developing countries. Today, over US $5 trillion in currency reserves are held by countries of the global South. They also make up 47 per cent of global trade.
Tapping this rich resource is an unparalleled economic development opportunity and could be one of the main engines of growth in the years ahead, the Expo organizers believe.
“As so many stories that we have heard this week demonstrate, South-South Cooperation is playing a vital role in facilitating this global transition,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
“Not only are these local, national and regional efforts producing positive results, but they are overcoming barriers, building new partnerships, creating new finance mechanisms, generating knowledge, sharing information, providing training and capacity building in areas and sectors that are critical for a global transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and inclusive economy,” he added.
As an example of how solutions are shared and deals are struck, more than 40 companies were successfully matched and held business negotiations using the Expo’s South-South Global Assets and Technology Exchange (SS-GATE). An online match-making service bringing together innovative companies with the knowledge and funding they need to grow, the SS-GATE was able to get 148 companies to list their projects on the SS-GATE web-platform during an Expo event.
For the first time in its history, the Expo garnered a strong online presence with the help of volunteers who collaborated remotely around the world on social media. The event was so popular that it trended on Twitter in Kenya, meaning that the message of the value and growing scope of South-South cooperation reached the next generation of development practitioners, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, thinkers and leaders.
Also at the Expo, the fourth issue of Southern Innovator magazine (southerninnovator.org) had its official launch. Southern Innovator Issue 4 visits the new cities being built to tackle the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing 21st-century world. The magazine also highlights some of the solutions being devised to the challenges people face as the world becomes a majority urban place.
Some innovators are building new cities from scratch, applying the latest thinking and hard-wiring in cutting-edge information technologies and innovative environmental measures to create “smart” cities and eco-cities. Architects are designing and refining homes that are beautiful and functional, easy to build, affordable and conserve energy. Social entrepreneurs are innovating ways to create liveable and socially inclusive urban areas, often in places where planning has been scant and where incomes are very low. All the stories featured in the magazine were chosen for their focus on improving human development and for their ingenuity and fresh thinking.
Southern Innovator champions a 21st-century global innovator culture. It is being distributed through the United Nations’ network and partners and reaches some of the world’s poorest and remotest places, as well as the vibrant but stressed growing global megacities. It is hoped the magazine will inspire budding innovators with its mix of stories, essential information, facts and figures, images and graphics.
1) Global South-South Development Expo: The Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) is the FIRST EVER Expo solely from the South and for the South. It showcases successful Southern-grown development solutions (SDSs) to address the need to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Website: http://www.southsouthexpo.org/
2) Southern Innovator online story archive: Organized by theme, the story archive is a treasure trove of innovation stories and resources from the global South stretching back to 2006. Website: southerninnovator.org
Space: the final frontier. At least that was how heading off into the stars was portrayed in cult television and film series Star Trek. While many countries are working to raise living standards and eradicate poverty on earth, some are also looking to space for solutions to earth-bound problems.
Traditional space programmes were government-led and state-financed. They involved enormous armies of technicians, engineers and scientists. Each launch and mission had to be overseen by a vast mission control centre with row upon row of technicians watching computer screens in real time. Space technology advanced rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s with so many bright brains hard at work and with brave people willing to put their lives at risk, leading to humans walking on the surface of the moon in 1969.
All of this expensive expertise meant few governments had the resources to set up space programmes – and it was even out of the hands of most of the private sector. In time, these leviathan space efforts lost the financial support of governments and the pace of new developments and achievements slowed. Nobody has set foot on the moon in 40 years – or on any other planet, for that matter.
But various developments are changing the space scene today and promising a bright future and a return to rapid innovation.
Space programmes are playing a greater role in the economic and innovation strategies of countries in the global South. New technologies and trends are turning space exploration into more affordable, small-scale operations within the reach of many countries.
New information technologies and innovations in miniaturization mean satellites can be very small and light. These developments bring down costs considerably, and also reduce the number of people needed to monitor space missions.
For example, on 14 September 2013 Japan’s space agency, JAXA, proved a slimmed-down space launch can work when it fired off its Epsilon rocket with a small satellite onboard. What made this mission different was how little it took to monitor the mission: just two laptop computers and a small team of eight people. Previously, similar missions required a team of 150 people.
Fewer people meant the launch was much cheaper. One of the reasons for having many people involved in the launch of a rocket is the need to perform multiple systems checks to make sure the launch is successful. The Epsilon is a “smart” rocket and saves on the need for people to micro-manage the launch procedures by having its own on-board computer with artificial intelligence (AI) capable of doing the laborious checklists before launch.
Billing itself as “The first Latin American space development company,” Colombia’s Sequoia Space (sequoiaspace.com) was established in 2008 to build miniature satellites (called nano or pico satellites) that are affordable to countries in the global South.
Located in Bogota’s trendy neighbourhood of Chapinero, Sequoia has set itself up to exploit the technological trend towards making things smaller and smaller.
The firm manufactures satellites that range in size from 1.3 kilograms to 16 kilograms and are custom built for the customer’s needs. One satellite it is working on for the Colombian air force weighs 4.5 kilograms. It can make satellites to conduct missions in earth observation, remote sensing, micro-gravity experiments and other scientific experiments.
The company was launched in 2007 by a team of Colombian engineers, who turned their extensive experience in developing satellites for the aerospace industry into a start-up. Their dream is to further develop the aerospace industry in Latin America and grow its role in the global space industry. They hope to make it possible for more and more countries in Latin America to carry out space missions.
The company currently has clients in Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.
Other Latin American space programmes include Peru’s CONIDA (http://www.conida.gob.pe/). Its mission is to “To promote, to research, to develop and to disseminate science and space technology for national interests, in order to create unique and differentiated services driving national development.”
Ecuador’s Ecuadorean Civilian Space Agency (EXA) (http://www.exa.ec/index-en.html) has had a rough ride with its space programme with the failure of the Pegasus nano-satellite. Ultra-small, Pegasus was a small cube measuring just 10 centimeters along its edge and weighing just 1.2 kilograms (BBC). It was launched on 25 April 2013 from the Chinese spaceport of Jiuquan (http://www.cgwic.com/LaunchServices/LaunchSite/JSLC.html) but collided with a cloud of particles from an old Soviet-era rocket. It was declared lost by August 2013, having cost the government US $700,000.
A second satellite, Krysaor (http://www.exa.ec/nee-02-eng.htm), is set to be launched in November 2013. It is intended as a partner to Pegasus and is for educational uses and also to monitor space debris, its website states.
Other trends in the space race include radical changes in how space missions can be funded and the range of players who can do it. Space entrepreneurs who are using their own private wealth to finance space missions and technology development are now driving innovation.
Pioneers in this new frontier include two US-based private companies. SpaceX (spacex.com), headed by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, boasts of having “the world’s first reusable rockets.” Started in 2002, it now employs more than 3,000 people and has an ultimate goal of creating the technological capability for humans to live on other planets.
The way SpaceX offers access to space as a service is also radical. The company website shows how the re-usable rockets work and then offers potential customers a price list and various options for delivering payloads to space (spacex.com/falcon9).
Another pioneering company is run by the founder of the online shopping service Amazon (amazon.com). Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin (blueorigin.com) seeks to lower the costs of getting humans into space.
Inspired by the revolution in project funding brought about by the Internet, Denmark’s Copenhagen Suborbitals (http://www.copenhagensuborbitals.com/) is looking to crowd-fund space missions from donations and says it will use the money to launch peaceful-purpose suborbital spacecraft.
“We aim to show the world that human space flight can be different from the usual expensive and government controlled project,” its website says.
How are these companies relevant to countries coping with wide-scale poverty and economic underdevelopment? There are many space technology applications that can aid poor countries. They can improve communications technology and provide more sophisticated communications services. Satellites can monitor weather and agriculture and conduct sophisticated mapping activities. This can help with planning for fast-growing urban areas.
The West African country of Nigeria is running one of Africa’s largest space programmes to boost its effectiveness as an agricultural economy. Nigeria announced its space programme in 2003 and launched its first satellite in 2007 with the Chinese. Unfortunately, this satellite failed and fell out of orbit.
But Nigeria did not give up and now has three satellites in space.
In 2011, President Goodluck Johnathan said the satellites would “substantially reduce the annual expenditure of over $1 billion arising from the use of foreign bandwidth for GSM Communications, cable television, e-commerce and e-government by both public and private users in the country” (allAfrica).
The Nigerian government is using these satellites to help with its planning and monitoring of disaster-prone areas.
Two countries of the global South, India and China, got involved in space programmes early on in the global space race. India started its space programme in the late 1960s and launched its first satellite in 1975. China began its space programme more than 50 years ago but did not launch its first satellite until the early 1970s. Since then, the country has also launched human beings into space.
And their ambitions are rising: both India and China have their sights set on large-scale space voyages, including missions to the planet Mars.
China is now working on a 60-ton space station to orbit around the earth which is planned to be finished by 2020. Ambitiously, the country is also working towards sending human beings to the planet Mars sometime around 2040 to 2060.
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.