Making information and communication technology (ICT) readily available for vulnerable countries and harnessing it’s potential to help tackle a raft of ills – from disaster risk reduction to reaching ‘zero hunger’ – will be among the issues on the agenda at an annual United Nations information forum that kicked off Monday in Geneva.
From building vibrant information and communication technology (ICT)-centric ecosystems to harnessing their potential for disaster risk reduction, the annual United Nations forum on information kicked off Monday – exploring a range of compelling possibilities to meet sustainable development challenges.
More than 2,500 ICT experts from around the globe have assembled at International Telecommunication Union (ITU) headquarters in Geneva for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum seeking to bring benefits to everyone, everywhere.
“[The WSIS Forum] is our common platform to review the achievements of [information and communication technology] developments, to discuss the challenges and opportunities, to showcase innovation and to share best practices,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
Innovative projects showcase ICT solutions in areas as diverse and critical as the ‘Internet of Things’ for development, e-agriculture, information accessibility, cybersecurity, virtual reality (VR) and education, autonomous robots, gender empowerment, and the implementation of WSIS Action Lines – a framework for worldwide action on ICTs – towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
On site, “ICT Solutions for SDGs” will include drones for social development, robotics, artificial intelligence – and VR experiences.
Cyber nuts and bolts
This year’s WSIS has raised the spotlight on how ICTs can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including with a new Youth in ICTs track to leverage the skills of young people aged 18-35.
In a Cloud Café, youth and subject-area experts will exchange knowledge to advance the UN’s work while a Vloggers for SDGs session will discuss how YouTube has changed the way development organizations communicate with the public, including the rise of video blogging or Vlogging.
An innovation track called Accelerating Digital Transformation: Building Vibrant ICT Centric Innovation Ecosystems, provides a unique opportunity to build high-level dialogue, cooperation and partnership and identify good practices to support innovation ecosystems and funding policy for sustainable ICT projects.
For the second-annual global Hackathon, called #HackAgainstHunger, the ITU, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Impact Hub Geneva assembled more than 75 coders, food and agriculture experts and innovators to develop new ICT solutions to end world hunger.
During the Forum, WSIS Prizes will be awarded to recognize outstanding projects supporting the SDGs. Winners, or WSIS Champions, will play a key role in engaging global and grassroots community in online and community advocacy going forwad.
This year’s forum marks 15 years since the first Summit was held in Geneva, demonstrating that the foundations of a “just and equal information society” set by the Geneva Plan of Action in 2003 are still crucial to all WSIS stakeholders.
Knowledge-based technologies can decrease flood losses
Recent floods saturated the grounds in dry regions, though it also brought grief and pain for the residents. New emerging technologies and knowledge-based companies suggest up-to-date ways to turn the threats of flood into opportunities.
From mid-March to April 2019 widespread flash flooding affected large parts of Iran, most severely in Golestan, Fars, Khuzestan, Lorestan, and other provinces. Iran has been hit by three major waves of rain and flooding over the course of two weeks which led to flooding in at least 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces according to the officials.
According to Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian recent heavy rainfalls in Iran has filled 70 percent of dams and resulted in restoration of drained wetlands across the country.
On the other hand, the heavy rainfalls destroyed many urban and rural infrastructures of water, electrics, telecommunication and transportation networks. It also caused agricultural loss. In mid-April, the Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Hojjati said Iran’s agriculture sector has suffered an economic loss of 130 trillion rials (nearly $3 billion) as a result of extreme flooding which has inundated many provinces.
The head of Technology Development Council of Water Drought, Erosion and Environment Naderqoli Ebrahimi introduced some new technologies to help people and flood-stricken regions.
Portable water filters and purifiers
Supplying purified water in flood-stricken regions is one of the main challenges after the occurrence of natural disasters.
Some knowledge-based companies manufacture portable water filters and purifier packages, which provide drinking water and water for sanitation when there is no access to public water system.
The product can meet the demands of flood stricken and decrease the usage of water bottles, which is neither economic nor environment friendly.
Some fields were corrupted due to erosion caused by the recent fields. There are different methods for renovating the fields, which were destroyed.
The Iranian knowledge-based companies provide methods for tillage system in order to prepare the fields for next seeding.
Tillage that is deeper and more thorough is classified as primary, and tillage that is shallower and sometimes more selective of location is secondary.
Documenting via drones
Unmanned aerial system would be a great help in imaging and estimation of the loss and damages during the natural disasters.
Such estimations and images would be a great help to prevent future losses and control the damages.
In past two decades, the satellite imagery was great solution to monitor natural disasters. In contrast, drones can capture aerial imagery at a far higher resolution, more quickly and at much lower cost. And unlike satellites, members of the public can actually own drones.
Aerial seeding, as a technique of sowing seeds by spraying them through aerial mechanical means such as a drone, plane or helicopter, is also a great way to cultivate the saturated regions after the flood.
Besides, the aerial seeding is an effective method to reduce erosion hazards and suppress growth of invasive plant species.
Iranian knowledge-based companies have already the knowledge and equipment to meet this demand for flood stricken area.
The major advantage of aerial seeding is the efficient coverage of a large area in the least amount of time. Aerial seeding facilitates seeding in areas that otherwise would be impossible to seed with traditional methods, such as land that is too hard to reach by non-aircraft or ground conditions being far too wet.
According to data from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, these staggering figures are the total economic and human impact of global disasters from 2002 to 2012. With a steady growth in annual climate-related disasters, emergency management strategies are of high priority. Disaster management technologies is a must, which should be on high agenda to decrease losses in the future.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
Central Banks Becoming Leaders in Blockchain Experimentation
Although central banks are among the most cautious institutions in the world, they are, perhaps surprisingly, among the first to implement and experiment with blockchain technology. Central banks have been quietly researching its possibilities since 2014. Over the past two years, the beginning of a new wave has emerged as more central banks launch large-scale pilots and research efforts, including rapid and complete cross-border interbank securities.
The Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology team at the World Economic Forum interviewed dozens of central bank researchers and analysed more than 60 reports on past and current research efforts. The findings were released today in a white paper, Central Banks and Distributed Ledger Technology: How are Central Banks Exploring Blockchain Today?
“As the blockchain hype cools, we are starting to see the real use cases for blockchain technology take the spotlight,” said Ashley Lannquist, Blockchain Project Lead at the World Economic Forum. “Central bank activities with blockchain and distributed ledger technology are not always well known or communicated. As a result, there is much speculation and misunderstanding about objectives and the state of research. Dozens of central banks around the world are actively investigating whether blockchain can help solve long-standing challenges such as banking and payments system efficiency, payments security and resilience, as well as financial inclusion.”
It is not widely known, for instance, that the Bank of France has fully replaced its centralized process for the provisioning and sharing of SEPA Credit Identifiers (SCIs) with a decentralized, blockchain-based solution. SEPA, or Single Euro Payments Area, is a payment scheme created by the European Union and managed on a country-by-country basis for facilitating efficient and secure cross-border retail debit and card payments across European countries. The solution is a private deployment of the Ethereum blockchain network and has been in use since December 2017. It has enabled greater time efficiency, process auditability and disaster recovery.
The fact that dozens of central banks are exploring, and in some cases implementing, blockchain technology is significant, according to the white paper. It is an early indicator of the potential use of this emerging technology across financial and monetary systems. “Central banks play one of the most critical roles in the global economy, and their decisions about implementing distributed ledger and digital currency technologies in the future can have far-reaching implications for economies,” Lannquist said.
Top 10 central bank use cases
Following interviews and analysis, how central banks are experimenting with blockchain can be highlighted by 10 top use cases.
Retail central bank digital currency (CBDC) – A substitute or complement for cash and an alternative to traditional bank deposits. A central-bank-issued digital currency can be operated and settled in a peer-to-peer and decentralized manner, widely available for consumer use. Central banks from several countries are experimenting, including those from the the Eastern Caribbean, Sweden, Uruguay, the Bahamas and Cambodia.
Wholesale central bank digital currency (CBDC) – This kind of digital currency would only be available for commercial banks and clearing houses to use the wholesale interbank market.Central bank-issued digital currency would be operated and settled in a peer-to-peer and decentralized manner. Central banks from several countries are experimenting, including those from South Africa, Canada, Japan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Cambodia.
Interbank securities settlement – A focused application of blockchain technology, sometimes involving CBDC, enabling the rapid interbank clearing and settlement of securities for cash. This can achieve “delivery versus payment” interbank systems where two parties trading an asset, such as a security for cash, can conduct the payment for and delivery of the asset simultaneously. Central banks exploring this include the Bank of Japan, Monetary Authority of Singapore, Bank of England and Bank of Canada.
Payment system resiliency and contingency – The use of distributed ledger technology in a primary or back-up domestic interbank payment and settlement system to provide safety and continuity in case of threats, including technical or network failure, natural disaster, cybercrime and others. Often, this use case is coupled with others as part of the set of benefits that a distributed ledger technology implementation could potentially offer. Central banks exploring this include the Central Bank of Brazil and Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.
Bond issuance and lifecycle management – The use of distributed ledger technology in the bond auction, issuance or other life-cycle processes to reduce costs and increase efficiency. This may be applied to bonds issued and managed by sovereign states, international organizations or government agencies. Central banks or government regulators could be “observer nodes” to monitor activity where relevant. Early implementation is being conducted by the World Bank with their 2018 “bond-i” project.
Know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering (AML) – Digital KYC/AML processes that leverage distributed ledger technology to track and share relevant customer payment and identity information to streamline processes. This may connect to a digital national identity platform or plug into pre-existing e-KYC or AML systems. Central banks exploring this include the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
Information exchange and data sharing – The use of distributed or decentralized databases to create alternative systems for information and data sharing between or within related government or private sector institutions. Central banks exploring include the Central Bank of Brazil.
Trade finance – The employment of a decentralized database and functionality to enable faster, more efficient and more inclusive trade financing. Improves on today’s trade finance processes, which are often paper-based, labour-intensive and time-intensive. Customer information and transaction histories are shared between participants in the decentralized database while maintaining privacy and confidentiality where needed. Central banks exploring this include the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
Cash money supply chain – The use of distributed ledger technology for issuing, tracking and managing the delivery and movement of cash from production facilities to the central bank and commercial bank branches; could include the ordering, depositing or movement of funds, and could simplify regulatory reporting. Central banks exploring this include the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.
Customer SEPA Creditor Identifier (SCI) provisioning – Blockchain-based decentralized sharing repository for SEPA credit identifiers managed by the central bank and commercial banks in the SEPA debiting scheme. This is a faster, streamlined and decentralized system for identity provisioning and sharing. It can replace pre-existing manual and centralized processes that are time- and resource-intensive, as seen in the Bank of France’s Project MADRE implementation.
Emerging economies may benefit most: Cambodia, Thailand and South Africa and others experimenting
The National Bank of Cambodia will be one of the first countries to deploy blockchain technology in its national payments system for use by consumers and commercial banks. It is implementing blockchain technology in the second half of 2019 as an experiment to support financial inclusion and greater banking system efficiency.
The Bank of Thailand and the South African Reserve Bank, among others, are experimenting with CBDC in large-scale pilots for interbank payment and settlement efficiency. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank is exploring the suitability of distributed ledger technology (DLT) to advance multiple goals, from financial inclusion and payments efficiency to payment system resilience against storms and hurricanes.
“Over the next four years, we should expect to see many central banks decide whether they will use blockchain and distributed ledger technologies to improve their processes and economic welfare,” Lannquist said. “Given the systemic importance of central bank processes, and the relative freshness of blockchain technology, banks must carefully consider all known and unknown risks to implementation.”
How Nuclear Techniques Help Feed China
With 19% of the world’s population but only 7% of its arable land, China is in a bind: how to feed its growing and increasingly affluent population while protecting its natural resources. The country’s agricultural scientists have made growing use of nuclear and isotopic techniques in crop production over the last decades. In cooperation with the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), they are now helping experts from Asia and beyond in the development of new crop varieties, using irradiation.
While in many countries, nuclear research in agriculture is carried out by nuclear agencies that work independently from the country’s agriculture research establishment, in China the use of nuclear techniques in agriculture is integrated into the work of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and provincial academies of agricultural sciences. This ensures that the findings are put to use immediately.
And indeed, the second most widely used wheat mutant variety in China, Luyuan 502, was developed by CAAS’s Institute of Crop Sciences and the Institute of Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, using space-induced mutation breeding (see Space-induced mutation breeding). It has a yield that is 11% higher than the traditional variety and is also more tolerant to drought and main diseases, said Luxiang Liu, Deputy Director General of the Institute. It has been planted on over 3.6 million hectares – almost as large as Switzerland. It is one of 11 wheat varieties developed for improved salt and drought tolerance, grain quality and yield, Mr Liu said.
Through close cooperation with the IAEA and FAO, China has released over 1,000 mutant crop varieties in the past 60 years, and varieties developed in China account for a fourth of mutants listed currently in the IAEA/FAO’s database of mutant varieties produced worldwide, said Sobhana Sivasankar, Head of the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. The new mutation induction and high-throughput mutant selection approaches established at the Institute serve as a model to researchers from around the world, she added.
The Institute uses heavy ion beam accelerators, cosmic rays and gamma rays along with chemicals to induce mutations in a wide variety of crops, including wheat, rice, maize, soybean and vegetables. “Nuclear techniques are at the heart of our work, fully integrated into the development of plant varieties for the improvement of food security,” Liu said.
The Institute has also become a key contributor to the IAEA technical cooperation programme over the years: more than 150 plant breeders from over 30 countries have participated in training courses and benefited from fellowships at CAAS.
Indonesia’s nuclear agency, BATAN, and CAAS are looking for ways to collaborate on plant mutation breeding and Indonesian researchers are looking for ways to learn from China’s experience, said Totti Tjiptosumirat, Head of BATAN’s Center for Isotopes and Radiation Application. “Active dissemination and promotion of China’s activities in plant mutation breeding would benefit agricultural research across Asia,” he said.
From food safety to authenticity
Several of CAAS’ other institutes use nuclear-related and isotopic techniques in their research and development work and participate in several IAEA technical cooperation and coordinated research projects. The Institute of Quality Standards and Testing Technology for Agro-Products has developed a protocol to detect fake honey, using isotopic analysis. A large amount of what is sold in China as honey is estimated to be produced synthetically in labs rather than by bees in hives, so this has been an important tool in cracking down on fraudsters, said Professor Chen Gang, who leads the research work using isotopic techniques at the Institute. A programme is also in place to trace the geographical origin of beef using stable isotopes, he added.
The Institute uses isotopic techniques to test the safety and to verify the authenticity of milk and dairy products – work that was the outcome of IAEA technical coordinated research and cooperation projects that lasted from 2013 to 2018. “After a few years of support, we are now fully self-sufficient,” Mr Gang said.
Improving nutrition efficiency
Various CAAS institutes use stable isotopes to study the absorption, transfer and metabolism of nutrients in animals. The results are used to optimize feed composition and feeding schedules. Isotope tracing offers higher sensitivity than conventional analytical methods, and this is particularly advantageous when studying the absorption of micronutrients, vitamins, hormones and drugs, said Dengpan Bu, Professor at the Institute of Animal Science.
While China has perfected the use of many nuclear techniques, in several areas it is looking to the IAEA and the FAO for support: the country’s dairy industry is dogged by the low protein absorption rate of dairy cows. Less than half of the protein in animal feed is used by the ruminants, the rest ends up in their manure and urine. “This is wasteful for the farmer and the high nitrogen content in the manure hurts the environment,” Mr Bu said. The use of isotopes to trace nitrogen as it travels from feed through the animal’s body would help improve nitrogen efficiency by making the necessary adjustments to the composition of the feed. This will be particularly important as dairy consumption, currently at a third of global average per person, continues to rise. “We are looking for international expertise, through the IAEA and the FAO, to help us tackle this problem.”
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