INTEGRATING MODERN TECHNOLOGY ACROSS PROJECTS IN CAMBODIAPublished: Mar 18, 2018 Reading time: 8 minutes
For People in Need (PIN) in Cambodia, technology is an essential tool for building resilience. Through the use of innovative and accessible technologies, we prioritise effectiveness and efficiency, optimise resources and increase the impact, reach and pace of our development interventions.
When a person or community has resilience, it means it is able to recover quickly from difficulties and spring back into shape. In a development context, applying a resilience lens to any project is vital because people are encouraged to bounce back stronger and wiser, reducing their vulnerability and ultimately improving their living standards. By increasing resilience, the project adds a longterm capacity-building element to its intervention, allowing for the positive impacts achieved to be sustained long after the project ends. People In Need (PIN) works in various sectors across Cambodia, including disaster risk reduction, livelihoods and environment, habitat advancement and maternal and child health. We aim to respond to the population’s needs in innovative ways, while prioritising the effectiveness and efficiency of our interventions. Innovation at PIN stems from the optimisation of resources and being forward-looking – much of which relates to the integration of technology. In this ever-increasing digital world, adding a technological dimension to our processes and interventions can increase the impact, reach and pace of the development goals we strive to achieve – and it does not always have to be expensive. Therefore, technology is an essential tool we use in order help our target audience achieve increased resilience.
How technology enhances effectiveness:
Over the past 20 years, rising pressure on commercial land in Phnom Penh has caused the eviction of approximately 150,000 people from areas they lived on for decades (many since the fall of Khmer Rouge regime in 1979). Often poorly compensated and relocated up to 50 kilometers outside town, people lose their livelihoods, access to schools and healthcare. iTenure is a software tool that conducts legal analysis and evaluation of household-specific land claims. Using geographic, legal and other supporting data for analysis of a household’s land title, it produces a customised information package containing a map of the house, a report and legal advice on how to strengthen a land claim. The packages are available in two languages, English and Khmer, and in two formats, written and audio. Since the legal data is quite heavy and complex, each claimant is able to access a simplified version of their report and advice sheet in audio format by calling a number and entering the code supplied in their information package, or by downloading an application onto their smartphone. Since the legal data is quite dense, the audio format provides a simplified summary of the tailored legal information so that each claimant can easily understand his or her tenure status.
iTenure represents a substantial upgrade to the former PIN projects in Cambodia, where trainings in law we held for household owners and manual production of household-specific information packages by law experts. iTenure significantly reduces the amount of time necessary for the production of householdspecific legal information packages (reduced from 12 hours to 45 minutes per package) and the volume of work for expert land lawyers. This lowers costs of the service provided by iTenure and makes it feasible to expand this free-of-charge service to other vulnerable communities.
Mobile phone use is widespread in Cambodian society, with nearly 90% of the population owning a cell phone. The technology provides a unique platform for information dissemination across the country, particularly in rural hard-to-reach communities. Not only do mobile phones allow us to reach more people, but it also provides options on how to interact with them once reached. For instance, with low literacy levels in Cambodia and most phones incompatible with the local language, Khmer, PIN uses Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology in its mHealth 1296 application and Early Warning System (EWS 1294).
mHealth 1296 is a voice messaging system that provides key life-saving health information to the mobile phones of pregnant women and new mothers during the first two years of a baby’s life. Mothers registered to the application receive 60-90 second long voice messages with health information tailored to their specific stage of pregnancy or since giving birth. In order to encourage both fathers and mothers to engage with the recommendations, the messages are designed to come from five influential characters from the community: three women (a midwife, a village volunteer and a grandmother) and two men (a doctor and a village chief). As Cambodia continues to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the region, PIN developed mHealth to improve maternal and child health practices and help with the early detection of danger signs in pregnant women and babies. The application currently has 14,530 active registered users from Koh Kong, Kampong Chhnang, Kratie and Takeo provinces. In 2018, PIN will scale mHealth to the urban areas of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang with the aim of registering an additional 45,000 pregnant women and mothers to the service. Over the course of the year, PIN will also proceed in strategising the privatisation of mHealth so that it runs on a self-sustaining financing model, thus ensuring its sustainability.
Early Warning System (1294)
Cambodia is the eighth most disaster vulnerable country in the world with regular exposure to a variety of natural hazards, most commonly floods, drought, and typhoons. One way PIN builds disaster resilience amongst at-risk communities is by increasing their preparedness to these events. PIN’s Early Warning System (EWS 1294) aims to do just that by warning people in advance of an oncoming natural hazard in Cambodia. Once an event is detected, a voice recording with information about the nature of the emergency is sent to the mobile phones of registered users in the specific at-risk area. The early warning allows people to prepare themselves, their families and their livelihoods for the oncoming danger. This could mean evacuation to the nearest safe site, or staying in their homes and securing their most important possessions; the extra time to prepare can often mean the difference between life and death. First piloted in 2013, EWS 1294 has now expanded to cover more than 250,000 people through its 79,000 registered users across nine provinces, including many of the most vulnerable areas of Cambodia. Similar to mHealth 1296, the system uses voice messages rather than text messages in order to include all Cambodians regardless of literacy levels. The Natural Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications have officially recognised EWS 1294 as a front line emergency phone service, and telecommunications providers Cellcard, Metfone and Smart have all made the service freely available to all their customers. The National Committee for Disaster Management and PIN plan to expand the system countrywide by the end of 2019.
How technology enhances efficiency:
Automated Water Gauges
An automated water gauge is a flood detection tool that monitors river water levels. Powered by solar energy, the device measures precise water levels every 15 minutes and sends the data across a mobile phone network to a centralised online server where the information is stored and analysed. Costing $300 to create, PIN co-developed and piloted the use of the affordable tool with the aim of reducing vulnerability of the Cambodian population to floods. The ability of automated water gauges to continuously record water levels and transmit the data for immediate evaluation has significantly improved the responsiveness of Cambodia’s Early Warning System. Before introducing the gadgets, water levels were monitored manually, meaning the time from detection to message dissemination could take hours or days. By incorporating this technology, warning messages are sent to registered users almost instantly, giving them more time to prepare for flooding and thus increasing their resilience to disaster. The data collected from the devices can also help in providing long-term insights into the patterns of water levels in Cambodia, supporting the work of the National Flood Forecasting Centre. PIN currently has four automated water gauges installed on bridges across four provinces, and plans to install at least 16 more in 2018.
Since 2016, PIN has been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, to collect elevation imagery for the production of maps required for disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities. The development of Emergency Preparedness and Response plans (EPRPs) is an important element of DRR support that PIN provides to local authorities and for which good satellite or aerial imagery is an essential requirement. The ability to study elevation levels is vital as it enables us to predict and model flooding scenarios, thus allowing us to identify the most-vulnerable areas and inform nearby residents of the risk. Moreover, with this data we can identify evacuation options, at-risk populations, property and infrastructure, as well as design appropriate preparedness, mitigation and adaptation measures. If the imagery is of high quality, it is even possible to estimate the vulnerability of physical structures.
Drones have significantly reduced the time needed for procurement of up-to-date high quality maps, particularly in extensive areas. PIN has invested in two $10,000 fixed-wing drones in order to increase the costeffectiveness of mapping exercises and accelerating DRR efforts in the country. Though it requires a significant initial payment, extensive use of the drones throughout the DRR activities quickly pays back the investment.
Conclusion - not a panacea
Technology will not cure every problem faced in resilience-building activities, nor can it have an immediate transformative impact on a population’s standard of living on its own. What technology can do, however, is improve the effectiveness and efficiency of development interventions. This allows us to minimise the amount of energy, time and funds wasted and lets us help vulnerable populati-ons increase their resilien-ce at an accelerated pace.