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The Huawei affair

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As the experts of the sector say, all the advanced communication lines and networks are “non-deterministic”.

 This means that, when built and completed, they are a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and is not predictable in its results, given the functions of the parts taken separately.

 The complication of the Web is related to the number of the parts composing it and to the number of relations, namely “nodes”, which are present in the elements that make it up.

  This is not a phenomenon that can be corrected or controlled. It is a purely mathematical and inevitable effect of the Web and of the interaction between its nodes.

 The Communication Assistance for the Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) is a US regulation obliging those who maintain the Networks to keep sound security mechanisms that are defined – together with those who produce them –  in specific FBI directories.

 Nevertheless, there is much talk about the relationship – which is, indeed, non-existent – between the Chinese intelligence services and Huawei.

 According to CALEA, each information network must have a control system – hence a system to check the data passing through the network, so as to know – at any time – the data running on the specific Network to be controlled.

 In other words – and with harsh clarity –  it is a matter of allowing interceptions, according to the US law.

 Therefore, from the privacy viewpoint, the US law does not impose different and better behaviours than those of which Huawei is accused.

 Recently the UK-based Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre has submitted its fifth annual report.

 It has clarified that – as in any Networks – the source code  is extremely complex and “long”, written in a language that is naturally “insecure and unsafe”, which can be manipulated by all those who can reach the source code since the aforementioned level of complexity is such that it does not allow any security check. Neither stable nor temporary.

 Hence whoever could inspect the source code of any telephone network or world wide web producer could never determine whether it is devoid of bugs or original elements, or of malicious insertions by the producer or others, and could not even trace its origin.

 Therefore, every time the source code is reconstructed, it produces something different compared to the previous version. It is a direct function of the complexity of the code itself.

 This means that we are never sure that the code that has succeeded the initial check is exactly the one that “works” in the next network.

 Hence data security risks are not and cannot be specific to Huawei alone, but are inherently common to all network builders and to their primary and standard software. Every  manufacturer’s check inserts new data and new unpredictable effects.

 Therefore the pure network technique does not matter much and, in any case, the security problem, which is always relative, applies to everyone.

 Hence the questions we must ask ourselves are eminently political, i.d. how long can Huawei withstand pressure from the Chinese government or to what extent Huawei itself intends to support the efforts of Chinese security agencies.

 It is unlikely that the Chinese intelligence services want to undermine or restrict the global reach of a global and Chinese company, which is essential for the economic development of the country, by trivially putting it in the service of its networks. It is certainly not worth it.

 Moreover, Huawei has developed its 5G model for at least ten years and it has contributed to the definition of the 5G standard globally.

 The Chinese research into the 5G started in 2009 and Huawei is second only to Samsung for number of standard essential patents (SEPs) and has the highest global level of 5G evolution in various areas of use. There are really no credible competitors for Huawei – hence the  pseudo-arguments on security or Huawei’s relations with the Chinese intelligence services are used.

 Too trivial and too dangerous. If anything, the true goal of the Chinese intelligence services is precisely to support Huawei’s image as an impartial and global operator, certainly not as a tool for its operations.

 You cannot understand the Chinese intelligence services at all – which are not childish in their approach – if you assume they behave like this.

It is rather known to all global network and IT operators that five years ago the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted CISCO’s hardware and also infiltrated and paid  RSA – the company processing numerical codes for the global market – to release manipulated cryptology standards, in addition to forcing some American companies, including Yahoo!, to collaborate in the global espionage organized by US agencies.

 Precisely what of which Huawei is accused.

 Who owns Huawei?

 100% of it is owned by a holding company, 1% of which is directly owned by Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the company.

 The remaining 99% of Huawei is owned by a “union committee” of all employees. The employees’ shares are, in effect, normal contractual rights for profit  distribution.

 Moreover, the purchase of the Huawei 5G network is particularly interesting from the price viewpoint, which could even offset the unlikely damage of a leak – possibly  random – on a node of the Network.

 A leak that obviously anyone can put in place – even using the Huawei network, without being part of the company.

 Obviously you can also buy the 5G networks produced by Ericsson or Nokia.

 These networks are definitely more expensive, less negatively affected by “external elements” (but is it true, considering that anyone can manipulate a network?) and created by less “dangerous” States – if we see them in a simplistic way – than China, which is currently the monstrum of the Western intelligence services that are now reduced to the minimum, including the US ones.

 With specific reference to the relationship between 4G and 5G, it should be noted that, for 10 years, there is an average increase by 64 times in operational capacity for each system that arrives on the market.

 The 4G is planned to run until 2023, but the 5G will increase the data processing power by as many as 5,000 times compared to the current 4G.

 Nowadays, however, also the 4G has reached the “Shannon limit”, that is the maximum limit of theoretical data transfer on a network, given a predetermined “noise” level within the network itself.

 However, the current 5G – namely Huawei’s – can always acquire new additional frequencies, which allow to use more channels, even simultaneously.

 Nevertheless it is much more sensitive to the 4G rain.

 The second advance of the 5G compared to the 4G network is the fact that the transmission cells have advanced antennas of different design compared to the current ones, capable of optimally managing different networks, even simultaneously.

 Furthermore China is much more internationalized in the IT and Network sector than we may think.

 Chengdu, the Chinese city with the highest density of “intel” companies, currently hosts 16,000 companies in the IT sector, including 820 ones fully owned by foreigners, in addition to Huawei’s primary competitors: Cisco, Ericsson, Microsoft, etc.

 Nokia-Siemens has 14 joint-ventures and directly-owned factories in China. Alcatel-Lucent has its largest factory in China. Ericsson’s largest distribution centre in China is the point of reference for the whole network of the Swedish company in the world. Cisco has some Research & Development centres in China, but also 25% of all Cisco production is provided by Chinese factories.

 The various quality controls, which in Huawei focus  explicitly on the ban and detection of backdoors, i.e.  hidden or secret ways to bypass normal authentication or encryption in computer operating system, which are controlled systematically, are managed – also financially –  by companies known throughout the global market, such as Price Waterhouse Coopers for internal finance and accounting, IBM Consulting for IT technologies and many others. Hence how can we think that a company like Huawei, with this type of relations, controls and checks, is so “impenetrable”, as some Western media report?

 Hence, apart from the rumors spread by mass media, what are the real reasons why, according to British intelligence documents, Huawei should not spread its far more cost-effective and functional 5G than the others in the West?

a) Huawei is the result of the Chinese “political ecosystem”. Well, what is the problem? How many Western companies work in China? A huge number and they all operate on the basis of local laws and China’s economic and political system. It is a hollow and generic argument.

b) According to its professional detractors, Huawei is the result of the Civilian-Military merger. However, the same  principle applies also to the USA. Certainly there are CPC committees in 11 of the most technologically advanced companies in China. Nevertheless, as many studies show, including Western ones, this does not automatically transfer the expanding civilian technologies to the Chinese military system.

c) In 2010, only less than 1% of hi-tech civilian companies  were connected to defence-related activities. Certainly, as happens everywhere, the connection between civilian and military activities is at the origin of Xi Jinping’s plans, namely the Made in China 2025 and the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Plan. President Xi has also created the Central Military Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development. However, these are specific projects and predetermined development lines – not for the  immediate use of civilian companies’ technology state of the art in military ones.

d) The Chinese power, however, has always used – and will continue to do so –  market forces to reform the old State-owned companies. In fact, this is the real current goal of Chinese power in the civilian-military relationship. This is also the reason why the big global Chinese companies are left free to float and fluctuate in the world market, instead of acting as retrievers for small and minor secrets, which the Chinese intelligence services can know anyway. Indeed, some analyses by the Chinese government itself tell us that, if the public business system does not change rapidly, most of the advanced private companies in China will de facto be cut out from the defence economy and its updating process.

e) How can we also think that a country like China manipulates one of its major companies, namely Huawei, to gather confidential information? The secrets, if any, are concepts, projects and sets of news, not the talk of some Presidents or some Ministers’ phone calls to their  lovers. This is at most pink press, stuff for gossip magazines we can find by hairdressers. It is never intelligence. Obviously,  for many Western countries, small personal data has become the substitute for sound strategic thinking, as if the defamation of a leader were the primary goal of an agency.

f) Again according to the detractors of its 5G leadership, Huawei is supposed to be subject to the 2017 Chinese Intelligence Law. This is a rule that allows, in principle, State control over foreign individuals and companies. What do Western intelligence services do differently instead? Not much, I think. Indeed, I am fairly certain about it.

g) The 2017 law also allows the operation of the Chinese intelligence services inside and outside China. Hence, what is wrong with it? What do we do differently? Obviously, in China’s legislation, it is also a matter of following and controlling the internal opposition. But, again, what do Western intelligence services do differently? Do they distribute snacks? Indeed, here is the connection between the various oppositions inside China and their use of, or even connection with, some Western intelligence agencies.

h) Furthermore, Western sources and media also state that the aforementioned Huawei’s structure is “opaque”. It may be so, but how is the structure of the other global hi-tech companies? Apple provides exactly the same internal data that is available to Huawei’s analysts. Considering the habit and style of granting substantial shareholdings to managers, the share ownership is equally opaque and often permits severe insider trading, often in favour of competitors. There is no reason to differentiate between Huawei’s corporate data and the one from other global IT and phone companies. Indeed, Huawei’s technical documentation is often much more detailed than the one of its global competitors. Certainly the public officials belonging to Huawei’s internal unions and control structures are accountable vis-à-vis the CPC and the State, but this holds true also for all the other Western companies that produce or sell in China. Do CISCO and Apple, who have been operating in China for many years, also in the R&D field,  believe they are exempted from some security checks?

i) An apparently rational argument of Huawei’s Western competitors regards the willingness of Chinese banks to fund this company. Just think about the notorious and stupidly ill-reputed “State aid”.

j) Indeed, Chinese banks certainly fund Huawei-the last time to the tune of some billion yuan, but only and solely based on official budgets. Nowadays, Western financial companies have free access to as many as 44 trillion US dollars, which is exactly the current size of the Chinese financial market. They can also have the majority of shares. In 2030 Western financial companies plan to reach 10 billion US dollars of profits in China. The problem is that China is liquid, while Western countries are so to a lesser extent. Yet the credit institutions prefer not to invest in companies and prefer to do so in opaque financial instruments and government bonds.

k) Furthermore – and here we can see the solely political drift of the controversy against Huawei – it is supposed to have produced and updated the e-control networks operating in Xinjiang. Is it possible that the Uyghurs are wrong and China is right? What is the West’s positive bias vis-à-vis an Islamic population that is often refractory to the Chinese system, with decades of terrorism behind it, even after a great economic boom, while the Hui – another Islamic population – do not cause any problem to China? Hence if we do not accept the “authoritarian” values of the Chinese system, we should not massively invest in that economic system. This is exactly what the Western companies are increasingly doing. Conversely, if the Western companies appreciate China’s stability and efficiency, they should resign themselves to accepting also the sometimes necessary repression of vociferous or basically jihadist minorities. If the West wants the jihad liberation, possibly to counter the new “Silk Road”, it shall have the courage to openly say so.

Moreover, Google is planning to re-enter the Chinese market with a version of its search system that adapts to the new Chinese laws on censorship or on the control of dangerous news. Or even on “enemy” propaganda.

Reverting to Huawei, as already mentioned, the Chinese company has set up  the Centre for Cybernetics Security in Great Britain, which is anyway in constant connection with the Government Communication Headquarters (GHCQ), the British intelligence and security organisation responsible for providing signals intelligence and information assurance, as well as for controlling networks,  ciphers and the Internet.

It should also be recalled that the 5G is not only a much faster Internet downloading system than the previous ones, but it is a network that will transform companies and the information technology.

Remote Medicine, self-driving vehicles, Internet of Things (IoT), new automated production systems.

These are the fields in which the outcome of the struggle between Huawei and Western companies will be decided, in a phase in which – for the first time in recent history – the USA and European allies have significantly lower leading technology than the Chinese one. This is precisely the core of the issue – not the talk about Chinese intelligence services or the rhetoric about mass control systems in Xinjiang.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Science & Technology

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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