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Improving Public Health Response, Media Reporting and Mass Awareness on Heatwaves through Web and Mobile based Systems

A web-based platform and SMS based technology to disseminate real time information on the emerging climate-induced threat of heatwaves.

Photo of Syed T. H. Kazmi
22 11

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

LEAD (Leadership for Environment and Development) Pakistan has developed a web-based platform (prototype) and SMS based technology to disseminate real time information to communities, journalists and decision makers on the emerging climate-induced public health threat of heatwaves in Karachi. The objective is to increase community resilience against heatwave emergency - through technology and mass awareness.
Frequent heatwaves have emerged as a new challenge in South Asian cities. In 2015, more than 3,000 people died in different cities of neighbouring India while Pakistan suffered its deadliest heatwave ever with a total death toll of more than 1,300 people in the metropolitan city of Karachi. Most of the casualties happened in poor urban slums where the residential structures, public spaces and utilities are in shambles. The local media reports mostly attributed the calamity to the failure of the power grid, whereas, the British medical journal, The Lancet, went as far as calling it a public health emergency and attributed the trend to the global urbanization.

Please See the attached document for complete details

WHO BENEFITS?

Urban slum dwellers, Journalists and Policy-makers

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

Urban slums are susceptible to the threats of climate change especially heatwaves in Karachi, Pakistan. The recent heatwave in the city claimed hundreds of lives which only highlight the need for action. The proposed idea revolves around mass awareness and how different emerging channels of communication can be used to disseminate crucial information regarding upcoming climate change calamities, with a focus on heatwaves. This information will not only include warning but also recommended steps that should be taken to reduce the impact of this calamity.

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Yes, for two or more years

EXPERTISE

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I am affiliated with Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan, a civil society organization based in Pakistan. Overtime, LEAD Pakistan has grown into one of the most dynamic LEAD Member Programs in the world.

IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?

LEAD Pakistan under its CDKN project helped the Indian city of Ahmedabad to develop a heatwave plan which helped keep its death toll at the national minimum. The plan consists of four pillars: educating the public about heat-related illnesses and preventative measures, initiating an early-warning system for the public, local governments and local medical officers. Keeping in view of the success, the City government of Karachi has asked LEAD Pakistan to help design a heat management plan. The web-based system and mobile application is part of the first pillar of the proposed plan for the port city. LEAD Pakistan is working with the Urban Unit Punjab on the idea and developed a prototype which is currently being tested. The former has a rich experience of implementing climate related projects in South Asia while the later has state of the art facilities to develop web based platforms using GIS technologies and SMS based real time applications.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?

Pakistan’s electronic media has gained enormous strength during the last decade. It has found outreach even to the remotest and poorest communities in the country. However, the potential of electronic media to create mass awareness on climate related issues has not been explored and used. The quality of media reporting is extremely poor on environmental issues as the media reporters don’t possess much know-how about the information sources and technologies to acquire real time information. For example, MET department regularly issues weather alerts, the information provided is hardly consumed by media, public or the decision makers to generate a meaningful response.
Pakistan as a developing country has around 140 million mobile subscribers, therefore, the mobile SMS system can be used for alerts and feedback. The mobile app produces community alerts (that will be easily understood with recommended actions) and response messages based on MET data and other national and international data sources including provincial and district departments.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?

How will the community respond to this idea when they don't have the awareness on the causes and urgency of action against the urban heatwave issue?
How the operating costs will be managed to run the proposed system?
Will the government step any time soon to have ownership for up-scaling of the technology?
How effective the proposed communications' system will be when the public in Pakistan don't have the experience of using technology as an early warning system?

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

The heatwave is a new phenomenon and there is lack of information on the causes, drivers and impacts of heatwaves at individual and institutional levels in Pakistan.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?

Following the feedback from the local community, we have planned to introduce information dissemination in local languages as well.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

We would like this platform to become a multi-stakeholder and multi-disaster response platform that feeds on information from various state departments. The departments like Pakistan Meteorological Department (MET), Health Department, Municipal Governments, Disaster Management Authorities could be linked through this technology/media-based platform.

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Photo of Stephen Mather
Team

Hi Syed,

This is a really interesting project. Can you speak more to the choice of SMS as the dissemination solution? What do those alerts look like? Also, not knowing much about cell networks -- what buy in do you need from government, and do you also need buy-in from telecoms, or is that handled through a regulatory process?

Thanks,
Steve

Photo of Syed T. H. Kazmi
Team

Hi Stephen,

Thank you. The SMS-based alerts will have a simple interface, and mostly involve important messages, warnings and instructions. As far as implementation of the idea goes, it is always useful to have the support of the government. The telecommunication authority was deregulated in 2004 therefore is not centrally controlled. The telecom service providers may need to be approached, but within the given frameworks of mobile social networks (such as SMSall). 

Photo of Stephen Mather
Team

Gotcha. Thanks Syed.

Unrelated question: what are the inputs to your heatwave predictions, and do you overlay those with demographic estimates?

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