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The Cyber Gulag revisited & Debate reloaded

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Is there life after Facebook? Or after the Spring-ing ‘revolution’? Now, when Wall Street is occupied, how will we occupy ourselves? Could we google protest, tweet discontent, arming  ourselves with all the mobile launcher gadgets powered by the micro & soft, touch screen & scream tech, then upload promenades, block a tragedy and avoid farce, and eventually download pure happiness – happily ever after? … Pimp my revolution, Date my resolution …

Through the pain of sobriety, the protesters all across the MENA, Euro-Med and overseas are learning that neither globalization nor the McFB way of life (mostly spent in the large, air-conditioned shopping-malls) is a shortcut to development; that free trade is not a virtue, but an instrument; that liberalism is not a state of mind but a well-doctrinated ideology, and finally that the social media networks are only a communication tool, not a replacement for indepen- dent critical thinking or for the collapsed cross-generational contract. “We are the suckers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones – and the eternally disappointed ones…”

Machines run on binary-coded algorithms (predictability of human behavior cyber-providers) can neither compensate for an empathic human touch nor can they replace the wonders of socio-emotional interactions of individuals in a real time-space. Sociableness is neither of linear, one-directional dynamics à la Running Sushi, nor can it be a 3-size simplified and instant portable like the Starbucks coffee. Personal relations are lived, not utilized by a mouse click. Human integrity is self-molested (brutalized) and self-reduced (trivialized) to a lame shop-window commodity, which is purchasable 24/7 by ‘poking’ on the photo of someone’s personal profile. And, likies are available to give a rating for ‘displayed commodities’.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Your appearance now is what we call ‘residual self-image’.
It is the mental projection of your digital self.
TRINITY TO NEO:
The Matrix cannot tell you who you are, but who you are seems to be at least
in some sense related to whom you think you are in the Matrix.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees, because he’s expecting to wake up.
Ironically, this is not far from the truth…
Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

This grotesque of self-imposed cyber gulag, called ‘social media networks’ might end up like smoking of the 21st century. In early 20th century, smoking was cool, sexy, brave, rebellious, liberating and most of all: social. As such it was glorified and promoted by that time Western press, film and other entertainment industries. However, as soon as the physical and mental exposures and distortion, as well as the dependency, submissiveness and heavy-addiction have been credibly verified, smoking was barred from all public places, from children and elderly, schools and hospitals. First opposing for some decades, the tobacco industry was eventually forced to visibly and clearly state warnings about all hazards associated with its products. Today, smoking is proscribed in the OECD countries, ghettoized, and effectively confined to the specially designated glass-boxes with powerful ventilations systems and sensitive fire-alarms. The developing world will maybe follow, one day, successfully. As for the OECD states and media networks: London/UK’s tweet and loot nights of early August 2011 and NY feed, occupy and camp autumn days of 2011 are an indication enough.

Misled by a quick triumphalism of the social-media cheerleaders and TV reporter–nomads, the international news agencies have definitely confused the two: revolt and revolution. As they later missed to co-relate a massive EU bail-outing and the UK loot-outing. Negotiating on the coined “Euro-zone debt crisis” (debt bound economies) without restaging the forgotten Lisbon strategy (knowledge-based societies) is simply a lame talk about form without any substance – it is a grand bargain about control via austerity, not a vision of prosperity.

The very precursor of the so-called Arab Spring was the winter of the (still unsettled) global financial crisis with its severe impact felt or misused locally. Consequently, the Arab unrests started as a social, not political, public revolt over high unemployment and soaring costs of living (Tunisia and Egypt), over the inter-tribal inequalities (Libya, Bahrain), or over a combination of all factors (Yemen and Syria). Besides publicly ‘crucifying’ a couple of scapegoats, it has then failed to bring about structural change (r/evolution), and is paradoxically ending up with more debts, ever higher living costs, and more unemployment than before the real or fabricated austerity measures were imposed in a response to the mounting global financial crisis. Finally, it is not clear whether these popular revolts have been preempted (or diverted by hacktivists), and at the end, scrutinized and criminalized.

How does the Arab ‘Spring’ correlate with the UK/London (looting) ‘Summer’ and the Wall Street (walking charade) ‘Autumn’? Well, the difference between a dialectic and cyclical history is a distance between success and fall: The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 (that interestingly enough also included the non-petrol exporting republics of Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) was an attempt at political emancipation. In the aftermath of the Oil Shock that the Embargo subsequently triggered, the Arab states have found themselves within ever stronger external financial and politico-military dependencies… History also rounds up the virtuality, (of) taxation and representation. No taxation without representation! – isn’t it?!

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Welcome to the desert of the real! …How do you define ‘real’!?
If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain …
The world exists now only as a part of a neural interactive simulation that we call the Matrix.

CYPHER TO TRINITY:
If I had to choose between that and the Matrix … I choose the Matrix.

TRINITY:
The Matrix isn’t real?

CYPHER:
I disagree, Trinity. I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.

The Ancient world of the Roman Empire was one of the first legal systems to extensively practice the institute of the so-called Civic death. This savage, inhuman but effective sanction medieval Europe eagerly continued for centuries, before it was finally abolished by the post-Napoleonic age. What would be the modern equivalent to this Antique criminal law penalty? Imagine that instead of a fine or imprisonment, the convicted individual gets a sentence which bars him from any access to mobile phones, internet/FB and to shopping malls. Science fiction? Not really! That is exactly what the Prime Minister Cameron asked for in the British Parliament, as to put the London riots under control in August 2011.

CYPHER:
I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth,
the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.
After nine years, do you know what I’ve realized?
Ignorance is bliss.

AGENT SMITH:
Then we have a deal?

CYPHER:
Reinsert me into the Matrix… I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing! You understand?
And I want to be rich… Someone important, like an actor… You can do that, right?

AGENT SMITH:
Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan.

For over ten years, Europe’s youth (in France, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Norway, Britain) is repeatedly sending us a powerful message on the perceived collapse of the cross-generational social contract. So far, the only consolidated response was the impressive build-up of the so-called ‘Wing/s front’. These movements, seemingly rightist political parties, are effectively exploiting mounting frustration of electorate over the main center-left and center-right political parties (that lost most of its traditional ideological platform and specific political content, but far too often co-habituating in a form of grand-coalitions across the EU), and the potent emotional charges related to ‘migration question’.

The history of Europe is a story of small hysterical nations, traditionally sensitive to the issue of otherness (as the ethnic, linguistic, religious or behaviorist minorities were misused far too many times in history by assertive neighbors all over the continent, or domestically presented as a Hassobjekt for the locally surfacing hardships). The present-day, aged but not restaged, EU is (in) a shadow of the grand taboo that Europe can produce everything but its own life. The ‘Old Continent’ is demographically sinking, while economically just keeping afloat. The cross-generational social contract is silently abandoned (as one of its main operative instruments – the Lisbon strategy – has been eroded, and finally lost its coherence). European youth feels it correctly, still does not express it right: The escapist, defeatist/rejectionist, retreating and confrontational anti-politics is on a rise in lieu of the visionary, dynamic far-reaching policies, aimed at the knowledge-based economy and solidarity-based society.

Imagine human beings living in an underground, cave like dwelling, with an Entrance
a long way up, which is both open to the light and as wide as the cave itself.  They’ve
been there since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered,
able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their
heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them.
Also behind them, but on higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and
 the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screen in front
of puppeteers above which they show their puppets … Then also imagine that there are
people along the wall, carrying all kind of artifacts that project above it – statues of
people and other animals, made out of stone, wood, and every material. And, as you’d
expect, some of the carriers are talking, and some are silent.

What is the possible message of the Arab ‘Spring’, London ‘Summer’ and the Wall street ‘Autumn’ for Asia in general and for Southeast Asia (SEA) in particular? Well, there are few. The cross-generational social contract should be neither neglected, nor built on the over-consumerist, anti-intellectual, trivialized and brutalized McFB way of life. Equally alienating and dangerously inflammatory is the radicalization of the entering youth generation – be it a religious or political radicalization. There must be a third way! – especially for the newly arriving SEA middle class that is also rapidly urbanizing. The middle class formation and its urbanization is closely related to the identity-crisis, too. The forthcoming task of intellectuals is to offer the best ways for accommodation of these new arrivals and their integration. It is the political parties who should then promote those policies and best practices for the lasting benefit of all stake holders and the social cohesion which, not only “pleases the markets” and complies with the spooky and shadowy rating agencies but, stabilizes the entire nation.

No doubt, just as the cyber-autistic McFB way of life is the same in any European and Middle Eastern city, so are the radical, wing politics! Have you spotted any critical difference between the rhetoric of Norwegian serial killer Breivik and the Al Qaida Wahhabi ‘Islamists’? “Just like Jihadi warriors are the plum tree of Ummah, we will be the plum tree for Europe and for Christianity”– many news agencies reported these as words allegedly written by the Christian Jihadist Anders Behring. The European (right-wing) parties opposing e.g. Muslim immigration are nothing but the mirror image of the MENA’s Islamist parties. In both cases, there are: (i) Socio-political outsiders (without much of an coherence, integrity and autonomy) that are denouncing the main, status quo, parties as a ‘corrupt establishment’; (ii) Extensively exploiting domestic economic shortcomings (e.g. unemployment, social inequalities, etc.), but they themselves do nothing essential to reverse the trend; (iii) Making ethnic and religious appeals (preaching the return to tradition), attacking foreign influences in their societies and otherwise ‘culturally purifying’ population; (iv) Generally doing better in local rather than in national elections (the ‘Rightists’ win on the national elections only when no other effective alternative exists to challenge the governing party/coalition block); (v) More emotionally charged populist movements than serious political parties of the solid socio-economic and socio-political program (per definition, these parties have very poor governing score).

NEO:
What is this place?

MORPHEUS:
More important than ‘what’ is when!

NEO:
When?

MORPHEUS:
You believe that it is the year 1999…
I can’t tell you exactly what year it is, because we honestly do not know…

So far, the Middle Eastern/MENA and European political establishments responded to these developments in similar fashion: (i) the Middle East: became more sectarian Islamic in its orientation, symbols, practices; (ii) the EU/Europe: mainstream (center) parties adopted rhetorics and promoted the measures advocated by the right-wing, anti-immigrant parties.
The calamities all over the EU and Euro-Mediterranean zone are showing us how dangerous, disastrous, and short-sighted these (anti-politics) policies of exclusion are.
Is Southeast Asia able to prevent its own Middle Eastern ‘Spring’, London ‘Summer’ and
‘Occupying Autumn’ social-cohesion ‘Fukushima-Daiichhi-like’ meltdown?

The Arab world’s population growth is considerably higher than its economic growth. This means that besides the grave indigenous political and regional security problems, domestic disparities, unemployment, pauperization and inequalities are on the sharp rise. Past the prime age of the “baby boomer” generation, Europe suffers the worrying negative demographic growth and rapid ageing. The EU replacement ratio is between 1,3 and 1,7 (and is afloat only due to steady and silent but massive naturalizations all across Europe over the last decade). The EU’s economic growth is very symbolic, despite huge territorial enlargements in the past decade. Actually, the EU’s growth in many categories could be portrayed as negative.

Ergo, both regions are in a socio-economic retreat, naturally reflected in their political defensive. To reverse the trend, both regions would need an extra effort (which is not presently lurking on the horizon).  

CAPTAIN TO AUTO (SHIP’s COMPUTER):
That’s all I’ve ever done! That’s all anyone on this blasted ship has ever done. Nothing! Nothing!!

AUTO TO CAPTAIN:
On the Axiom, you will survive.

CAPTAIN:
I don’t want to survive. I want to live.

AUTO:
…must follow my directive.

WALL-E:
Dirrrr-ect-ti-veee?… Eveeee!

EVE:
Waaaalll-eeee!… Wall-E!

WALL-E:
Ta-dah!

Finally, what is the karma and dharma of current financial crisis? Where is a thin line between too big to fail (so, bail) and too heavy to fly (but, expensive to buy)? Is the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ a spontaneous outcry, a stress-eliminator walk (usually recommended by medics), a camping charade overrun by a bluffing demagogue of anti-corporate populists and mid-term elections opportunists? Is this in fact a Woodstock-remake TV show, just another US exporting item? Or is it the (only way out for domestically needed) solution? Is OWS a mix of all, or none of these?
AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Did you know that the First Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? … It was a disaster. (… entire crops were lost.)

MOUSE TO NEO:
To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.

CYPHER:
Ignorance is bliss!

Revelation 21:4, KING JAMES BIBLE
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

MORPHEUS TO NEO:
Most of these people are not ready to be unplugged, many of them so inert, so hopelessly dependent…

IVAN, in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully
as to find someone to worship.

AGENT SMITH TO MORPHEUS:
Some believe that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world,
but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering.
The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.   

GARCIN, In Sartre’s No Exit:
Hell is – other people.

Sagan is very precise and instructive: “If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further… Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant…”

As one of the exceptionally few world regions, Southeast Asia so far holds both what is otherwise missing in the other two mentioned theaters – stabilized demographic growth and an impressive economic growth. However, the demographic and economic growth poses an additional environmental stress, which – if not under check – may result in confrontational domestic policies and practices aimed at to maximize a grab for finite, scarce resources.

Hence, be the outside world Kantian or Hobbesian (be it driven by the sense of higher civilizational mission and common ASEAN destiny, or by the pragmatic need to strengthen the nation’s position), all necessary means are here! To register its future claims, the SEA – as well as any other theater – have to demonstrate its lasting and decisive will now.

Tentatively, we can cluster that will around three main tasks:

(i)    Prosperity: Support to all three sides of the knowledge triangle: research (creation of knowledge); development/innovation (application of knowledge); education (dissemination of knowledge), as well as the promotion of life itself;
(ii)    Solidarity: Human dimension enhancement through promotion of cohesion policies, including the full respect of authenticity as well as the  preservation and promotion of indigenous socio-cultural and environmental diversities;
(iii)    Security: Enhancing the human-centered (socio-economic) safety, based on free- dom, justice and inclusive collective (environmental and socio-political) security.
This opportunity should be understood as history’s call – which both invites and obliges at the same time. Or, as Hegel reminds us that since: “reason is purposive activity…” the state should be: “…the actuality of the ethical Idea, of concrete freedom…” for all. An effective long-range prosperity, solidarity as well as (external or internal) security cannot be based on confrontational (nostalgia of) ‘religious’ radicalism and other ideological collisions. Clearly, it cannot rest on the escapist consumerism, corrosive socio-economic egoism and exclusion, restriction and denial, but only on promotion and inclusion. Simply, it needs to be centered on a pro-active, participatory policy not a reactive, dismissive one.  

TRUMAN:
Who are you?

CRISTOF:
I’m the Creator
…of a TV show that gives hope and joy, inspiration to millions.

TRUMAN:
Then who am I?

CRISTOF:
You are the star.

CRISTOF:
I know you better than you know yourself.

TRUMAN:
You never had a camera in my head!

Post Scriptum

NEO TO AGENT SMITH:
…You can’t scare me with this Gestapo crap. I know my rights…
I want my phone-call.

AGENT SMITH TO NEO:
Mr. Anderson, you disappoint me…
Tell me, what good is a phone-call if you’re unable to speak?

Note:
An early, shorter version of Is there life after Facebook?, the so-called fb1,article appeared at first in China (Beijing, the 4th Media) on 12th August 2011. Is there life after Facebook? – The Cyber Gulag revisited & Debate reloaded, the so-called fb2, article was an extended version of that text published by the Addleton Publishers, New York, RCP 10 (2), 2011.

The present text is an expanded, unpublished version that includes SEA and elaborates on OWS for the first time in this article. It is exclusively prepared for the International Media Conference in Paris, France (23–25 November 2011).  

References:

1.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2003), Beyond the Cyberpunk of negative utopia, Reader for the Research colloquia: Alternative Futures, Helsinki, Finland
2.    Kirkpatrick, D. (2010), The Facebook Effect, Simon & Schuster
3.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2011), No Asian century without the pan-Asian Institution, Post Script  THC, Jakarta 8:3
4.    Heidegger, M. (1927), Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), Max Niemeyer Verlag Tübingen (page: 37)
5.    Dostoyevsky, F.M., (1880), Братья Карамазовы (The Brothers Karamazov), (Chapter 5), Bantam Classics
6.    Huxley, A. (1932), Brave New World,  A Flamingo Modern Classics 1994 (page: 82)
7.    Nietzsche, F. (1886), Jenseits von Gut und Böse; Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft (Beyond Good and Evil) (page 199), Druck u. Verlag von C.G. Neumann, Leipzig
8.    Fromm, E. (1956), The Art of Loving, Perennial Classics, (page: 79 and page: 80).
9.    The Matrix Movie, written and directed by the Wachowski brothers (1999). According to the movie script; all quoted dialogues refer to the first motion picture of the Matrix trilogy (1999-2003)
10.    Pariser, E., (2011), The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Penguin (page: 43)
11.    Khanthong, T. (2011), Overdrive: Conveniently Ignoring the Truth, The Nation – Thailand (page 13A, 07 X 11)
12.    Plato  Republic, (trans. Grube, G.M.E.), 2nd Ed. Rev. C.D.C. Reeve, Indianapolis, Indiana: Huckett Publishing Co., 1992 (514a1 – 515a3)
13.    Dante, A. (1321), La Divina Commedia (The Devine Comedy), The NAL, Penguin Group /first published, 1954/  
14.    Goethe, J.W. (1808), Faust, Anchor Books Editions 1961 (page: 73, Der Tragödie erster Teil)
15.    NIC – National Intelligence Council (2008), Mapping the Global Future – Disruptive Civil Technologies (STwP Impacts on US Interests out to 2025), Conference proceedings April 2008  
16.    Tim Lister, Europe’s resurgent far right focuses on immigration, multiculturalism, CNN (July 24, 2011)
17.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Destiny Shared: Our Common Futures – EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco
18.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Towards the Creation of the OSCE Task Force on Human Capital, Documents of the 13th OSCE Economic Forum, Prague, Czech Republic
19.    Youngs, R. (2010), Europe’s Decline and Fall – The Struggle against Global Irrelevance, Profile Books    
20.    WALL-E (2008), written by Andrew Stanton and Pate Docter, directed by Andrew Stanton. All quoted dialogues taken from the official movie’s script    
21.    Bajrektarevic, A. (2010) The JHA Diplomacy: Palermo Convention, 10 Years After, GHIR – Geopolitics, History and Intl Relation (3:1/2011) (page:32)
22.    Friedman, G. (2009), The Next 100 Years, Anchor Books/Random House NY
23.    Sartre, J.–P. (1944), Huis Clos (No Exit), Vintage International (Random House 1989)
24.    The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir in 1998. All quoted dialogues taken from the official movie’s script
25.    Hegel, G.W.F. (1807), Phänomenologie des Geistes (The Phenomenology of Mind), Oxford University Press, 1977 (page: 25 VII)
26.    Sagan, C. (1980), Cosmos Random House, NY /Carl Sagan Productions Inc. (page: 327).  

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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From nanotechnology to solar power: Solutions to drought

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While the drought has intensified in Iran and the country is facing water stress, various solutions from the use of solar power plants to the expansion of watershed management and nanotechnology are offered by experts and officials.

Iran is located in an arid and semi-arid region, and Iranians have long sought to make the most of water.

In recent years, the drought has intensified making water resources fragile and it can be said that we have reached water bankruptcy in Iran.

However, water stress will continue this fall (September 23-December 21), and the season is expected to be relatively hot and short of rain, according to Ahad Vazifeh, head of the national center for drought and crisis management.

In such a situation, officials and experts propose various solutions for optimal water management.

Alireza Qazizadeh, a water and environment expert, referring to 80 percent of the arid regions in the country, said that “Iran has one percent of the earth’s area and receives only 36 percent of renewable resources.

The country receives 250 mm of rainfall annually, which is about 400 billion cubic meters, considering 70 percent evaporation, there is only 130 billion cubic meters of renewable water and 13 billion cubic meters of input from border waters.”

Referring to 800 ml of average rainfall and 700 mm of global evaporation, he noted that 70 percent of rainfall in Iran occurs in only 25 percent of the country and only 25 percent rains in irrigation seasons.

Pointing to the need for 113 billion cubic meters of water in the current year (began on March 21), he stated that “of this amount, 102 billion is projected for agricultural use, 7 percent for drinking and 2 percent for industry, and at this point water stress occurs.

In 2001, 5.5 billion cubic meters of underground resources were withdrawn annually, and if we consider this amount as 20 years from that year until now, it means that we have withdrawn an equivalent of one year of water consumption from non-renewable resources, which is alarming.”

The use of unconventional water sources can be effective in controlling drought, such as rainwater or river runoff, desalinated water, municipal wastewater that can be reused by treatment, he concluded.

Rasoul Sarraf, the Faculty of Materials at Shahid Modarres University, suggests a different solution and states that “To solve ease water stress, we have no choice but to use nanotechnology and solar power plants.

Pointing to the sun as the main condition for solar power plant, and while pointing to 300 sunny days in the country, he said that at the Paris Convention, Iran was required to reduce emissions by 4 percent definitively and 8 percent conditionally, which will only be achieved by using solar power plants.

Hamidreza Zakizadeh, deputy director of watershed management at Tehran’s Department of Natural Resources and Watershed Management, believes that watershed management can at least reduce the effects of drought by managing floods and extracting water for farmers.

Amir Abbas Ahmadi, head of habitats and regional affairs of Tehran Department of Environment, also referring to the severe drought in Tehran, pointed to the need to develop a comprehensive plan for water management and said that it is necessary to cooperate with several responsible bodies and develop a comprehensive plan to control the situation.

He also emphasizes the need to control migration to the capital, construction, and the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan of Tehran city.

While various solutions are proposed by officials and experts to manage water and deal with drought, it is necessary for the related organizations to work together to manage the current situation.

Mohammad Reza Espahbod, an expert in groundwater resources, also suggested that while the country is dealing with severe drought due to improper withdrawal of groundwater and low rainfall, karst water resources can supply the whole water needed by the country, only if managed.

Iran is the fifth country in the world in terms of karst water resources, he stated.

Qanats can also come efficient to contain water scarcity due to relatively low cost, low evaporation rates, and not requiring technical knowledge, moreover, they proved sustainable being used in perpetuity without posing any damages to the environment.

According to the Ministry of Energy, about 36,300 qanats have been identified in Iran, which has been saturated with water for over 2,000 years.

In recent years, 3,800 qanats have been rehabilitated through watershed and aquifer management, and people who had migrated due to water scarcity have returned to their homes.

Water resources shrinking

Renewable water resources have decreased by 30 percent over the last four decades, while Iran’s population has increased by about 2.5 times, Qasem Taqizadeh, deputy minister of energy, said in June.

The current water year (started on September 23, 2020) has received the lowest rain in the past 52 years, so climate change and Iran’s arid region should become a common belief at all levels, he lamented.

A recent report by Nature Scientific Journal on Iran’s water crisis indicates that from 2002 to 2015, over 74 billion cubic meters have been extracted from aquifers, which is unprecedented and its revival takes thousands of years along with urgent action.

Three Iranian scientists studied 30 basins in the country and realized that the rate of aquifer depletion over a 14-year period has been about 74 billion cubic meters, which is recently published in Nature Scientific Journal.

Also, over-harvesting in 77 percent of Iran has led to more land subsidence and soil salinity. Research and statistics show that the average overdraft from the country’s aquifers was about 5.2 billion cubic meters per year.

Mohammad Darvish, head of the environment group in the UNESCO Chair on Social Health, has said that the situation of groundwater resources is worrisome.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Technology and crime: A never-ending cat-and-mouse game

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Is technology a good or bad thing? It depends on who you ask, as it is more about the way technology is used. Afterall, technology can be used by criminals but can also be used to catch criminals, creating a fascinating cat-and-mouse game.

Countless ways technology can be used for evil

The first spear was used to improve hunting and to defend from attacking beasts. However, it was also soon used against other humans; nuclear power is used to produce energy, but it was also used to annihilate whole cities. Looking at today’s news, we’ve learned that cryptocurrencies could be (and are) used as the preferred form of payments of ransomware since they provide an anonymous, reliable, and fast payment method for cybercriminals.

Similarly, secure phones are providing criminal rings with a fast and easy way to coordinate their rogue activities. The list could go on. Ultimately, all technological advancements can be used for good or evil. Indeed, technology is not inherently bad or good, it is its usage that makes the difference. After all, spears served well in preventing the extinction of humankind, nuclear power is used to generate energy, cryptocurrency is a promise to democratize finance, and mobile phones are the device of choice of billions of people daily (you too are probably reading this piece on a mobile).

However, what is new with respect to the past (recent and distant) is that technology is nowadays much more widespread, pervasive, and easier to manipulate than it was some time ago. Indeed, not all of us are experts in nuclear material, or willing and capable of effectively throwing a spear at someone else. But each of us is surrounded by, and uses, technology, with a sizeable part of users also capable of modifying that technology to better serve their purposes (think of computer scientists, programmers, coding kids – technology democratization).

This huge reservoir of people that are capable of using technology in a way that is different from what it was devised for, is not made of just ethical hackers: there can be black hats as well (that is, technology experts supporting evil usages of such technology). In technical terms, the attack vector and the security perimeter have dramatically expanded, leading to a scenario where technology can be easily exploited for rogue purposes by large cohorts of people that can attack some of the many assets that are nowadays vulnerable – the cybersecurity domain provides the best example for the depicted scenario. 

Fast-paced innovation and unprecedented threats

What is more, is that technology developments will not stop. On the contrary, we are experiencing an exponentially fast pace in technology innovation, that resolves in less time between technology innovations cycles that, while improving our way of living, also pave the way for novel, unprecedented threats to materialize. For instance, the advent of quantum computers will make the majority of current encryption and digital signature methods useless and what was encrypted and signed in the past, exposed.

The tension between legitimate and illegitimate usages of technology is also heating up. For instance, there are discussions in the US and the EU about the need for the provider of ICT services to grant the decryption keys of future novel secure applications to law enforcement agencies should the need arise –a debatable measure.

However, technology is the very weapon we need to fight crime. Think of the use of Terahertz technology to discover the smuggling of drugs and explosives – the very same technology Qatar      has successfully employed. Or the infiltration of mobile phone crime rings by law enforcement operators via high tech, ethical hacking (as it was the case for the EncroChat operation). And even if crime has shown the capability to infiltrate any sector of society, such as sports, where money can be laundered over digital networks and matches can be rigged and coordinated via chats, technology can help spot the anomalies of money transfer, and data science can spot anomalies in matches, and can therefore thwart such a crime – a recent United Nations-sponsored event, participated by the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) Qatar and the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) discussed      the cited topic. In the end, the very same technology that is used by criminals is also used to fight crime itself.

Don’t get left behind

In the above-depicted cybersecurity cat-and-mouse game, the loser is the party that does not update its tools, does not plan, and does not evolve.

In particular, cybersecurity can help a country such as Qatar over two strategic dimensions: to better prevent/detect/react to the criminal usage of technology, as well as to advance robustly toward a knowledge-based economy and reinforce the country’s presence in the segment of high value-added services and products to fight crime.

In this context, a safe bet is to invest in education, for both governments and private citizens. On the one hand, only an educated workforce would be able to conceptualize/design/implement advanced cybersecurity tools and frameworks, as well as strategically frame the fight against crime. On the other hand, the same well-educated workforce will be able to spur innovation, create start-ups, produce novel high-skill products, and diversify the economy. 

In this context, Qatar enjoys a head start, thanks to its huge investment in education over the last 20 years. In particular, at HBKU – part of Qatar Foundation – where we have been educating future generations. 

CSE engages and leads in research disciplines of national and global importance. The college’s speciality divisions are firmly committed to excellence in graduate teaching and training of highly qualified students with entrepreneurial  capacity.

For instance, the MS in Cybersecurity offered by CSE touches on the foundations of cryptocurrencies, while the PhD in Computer Science and Engineering, offering several majors (including cybersecurity), prepares future high-level decision-makers, researchers, and entrepreneurs in the ICT domain  – the leaders who will be driving the digitalization of the economy and leading the techno-fight against crime. 

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Science & Technology

Enhancing poverty measurement through big data

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Authors: Jasmina Ernst and Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah*

Ending poverty in all its forms is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While significant progress to reduce poverty had been made at the global and regional levels by 2019, the Covid-19 pandemic has partly reversed this trend. A significant share of the population in South-East Asia still lacks access to basic needs such as health services, proper nutrition and housing, causing many children to suffer from malnutrition and treatable illnesses. 

Delivering on the commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leaving no one behind requires monitoring of the SDG implementation trends. At the country level, national statistics offices (NSOs) are generally responsible for SDG data collection and reporting, using traditional data sources such as surveys, census and administrative data. However, as the availability of data for almost half of the SDG indicators (105 of 231) in South-East Asia is insufficient, NSOs are exploring alternative sources and methods, such as big data and machine learning, to address the data gaps. Currently, earth observation and mobile phone data receive most attention in the domain of poverty reporting. Both data sources can significantly reduce the cost of reporting, as the data collection is less time and resource intensive than for conventional data.

The NSOs of Thailand and the Philippines, with support from the Asian Development Bank, conducted a feasibility study on the use of earth observation data to predict poverty levels. In the study, an algorithm, convolutional neural nets, was pretrained on an ImageNet database to detect simple low-level features in images such as lines or curves. Following a transfer learning technique, the algorithm was then trained to predict the intensity of night lights from features in corresponding daytime satellite images. Afterwards income-based poverty levels were estimated using the same features that were found to predict night light intensity combined with nationwide survey data, register-based data, and geospatial information. The resulting machine learning models yielded an accuracy of up to 94 per cent in predicting the poverty categories of satellite images. Despite promising study results, scaling up the models and integrating big data and machine learning for poverty statistics and SDG reporting still face many challenges. Thus, NSOs need support to train their staff, gain continuous access to new datasets and expand their digital infrastructure.

Some support is available to NSOs for big data integration. The UN Committee of Experts on Big Data and Data Science for Official Statistics (UN-CEBD) oversees several task teams, including the UN Global Platform which has launched a cloud-service ecosystem to facilitate international collaboration with respect to big data. Two additional task teams focus on Big Data for the SDGs and Earth Observation data, providing technical guidance and trainings to NSOs. At the regional level, the weekly ESCAP Stats Café series provides a knowledge sharing platform for experiences related to the impact of COVID-19 on national statistical systems. The Stats Café includes multiple sessions dedicated to the use of alternative data sources for official statistics and the SDGs. Additionally, ESCAP has published policy briefs on the region’s practices in using non-traditional data sources for official statistics.

Mobile phone data can also be used to understand socioeconomic conditions in the absence of traditional statistics and to provide greater granularity and frequency for existing estimates. Call detail records coupled with airtime credit purchases, for instance, could be used to infer economic density, wealth or poverty levels, and to measure food consumption. An example can be found in poverty estimates for Vanuatu based on education, household characteristics and expenditure. These were generated by Pulse Lab Jakarta – a joint innovation facility associated with UN Global Pulse and the government of Indonesia.

Access to mobile phone data, however, remains a challenge. It requires long negotiations with mobile network operators, finding the most suitable data access model, ensuring data privacy and security, training the NSO staff and securing dedicated resources. The UN-CEBD – through the Task Team on Mobile Phone Data and ESCAP – supports NSOs in accessing and using mobile phone data through workshops, guides and the sharing of country experiences. BPS Statistics Indonesia, the Indonesian NSO, is exploring this data source for reporting on four SDG indicators and has been leading the regional efforts in South-East Asia. While several other NSOs in Asia and the Pacific can access mobile phone data or are negotiating access with mobile network operators, none of them have integrated it into poverty reporting.

As the interest and experience in the use of mobile phone data, satellite imagery and other alternative data sources for SDGs is growing among many South-East Asian NSOs, so is the need for training and capacity-building. Continuous knowledge exchange and collaboration is the best long-term strategy for NSOs and government agencies to track and alleviate poverty, and to measure the other 16 SDGs.

*Ruhimat Soerakoesoemah, Head, Sub-Regional Office for South-East Asia

UNESCAP

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