UNDP held an online Hackathon ‘Master the Disaster’ in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in April 2020. More than 100 students came together and worked on inspiring ideas on preparedness and responding to climate change induced disasters as well as pandemic crises such as COVID-19. The Hackathon brought two winning ideas; Climate Crew and Jaanbaz. Below is their account.
Providing real time, verified, local disaster preparedness information to communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Variability in weather patterns due to climate change means that weather related disasters will become more frequent, intense, and unpredictable. Pakistan currently ranks 5th on the Global Climate Risk Index of countries that are affected most by climate change.
“The main problem is the lack of early warning and information to prepare for impending disasters. People living in disaster prone areas are often not aware of an impending disaster, thus it costs more lives and monetary damage” – Hirra Khan, one of the team members of Climate Crew.
‘Climate Crew’ was one of the 12 teams who participated in the Hackathon. Through local insights from KP, the Climate Crew identified that there exists a communication gap between the government and communities. This results in a severe lack of information on weather related warnings in KP, especially in far flung areas. The team decided to work on an initiative that would provide community members with access to updated information related to severe weather events.
They came up with an initial blueprint to develop an online portal that will be linked with relevant government departments, including the Provincial Disaster Management Authority and Pakistan Meteorological Department. The portal will ensure that only authentic and accurate news, information, and updates are shared via texts. People living in high-risk areas will receive alerts via their mobile phones. For this purpose, the team is also planning on having telecom companies on board, who can facilitate sending out geo-tagged messages. The team is also exploring the option of reaching differently abled people through audio or vibrating alerts.
“We want to reduce the burden of disasters on citizens as well as the government. It costs less to prepare for a disaster than to undertake rescue and rehabilitation. It is important to manage disasters”-Idrees Jahan, one of the team members of Climate Crew.
Engaging youth in volunteerism during crises
Facilities, supplies, and personnel are needed to ensure adequate response to a pandemic. Shortage of trained personnel results in severe disruption of key services and delays in critical rescue and response activities. Jaanbaz, s one of the two winning teams from the Master the Disaster Hackathon, identified a lack of trained personnel as the key issue when responding to disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pakistan has the strength of numbers, but in a crisis situation like COVID-19, if the volunteers and personnel are not linked and trained, they will not be able to add value in crisis management”- Muhammad Ismail, one of the team members of Jaanbaz
To address this issue, the team came up with the idea to develop a nationwide crisis response force that can be leveraged and reached out to during disasters. Students and young professionals can register online and will then be contacted via mobile applications which will alert them about nearby crises where their services can be of use. The aim is to create a network of motivated, and trained volunteers that can also provide technical support, such as research and healthcare, where required. The team plans to seek support for this idea from the National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities.
“The youth of Pakistan has always come forward in hours of national need. But in situations like COVID-19, there needs to be a more coordinated response. The Jaanbaz platform can do that”- Minaa Sohail Niazi, one of the team members of Jaanbaz
Both the Jaanbaz and Climate Crew teams have secured cash grants of PKR 100, 000 from UNDP to pilot their ideas. Along with our partner, Concepts Unlimited, UNDP is providing post-Hackathon mentorship and networking support to the teams They have also been connected with the National Incubation Centre Peshawar and Durshal — a project of the KP Information Technology Board (KPITB) that supports local entrepreneurs.
 Eckstein, D., Künzel, V., Schäfer, L. and Winges, M., 2019. Global Climate Risk Index 2020. Bonn: Germanwatch e.V., pp.9-10. Available at: https://bit.ly/3cuEygH