4 ideas for the Pacific's most pressing humanitarian issues

19 August 2020
Hacking for humanitarian good
This is what happened when 200 of the most inventive Australian students got together - virtually - for a weekend of humanitarian innovation hacking.

How can innovation solve the world’s most pressing humanitarian issues?

This was the question posed to undergraduate students from leading Australian universities at a recent live, online challenge, the Humanitarian Hackathon, which was hosted by the University of Sydney’s The Warren Centre as part of the 2020 Professor Ron Johnston Humanitarian Innovation Awards.

2020 Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon

Presenting to a panel of judges including former Governor General of Australia, General Sir Peter Cosgrove, RedR Australia's Board Chair Elizabeth Taylor AO, Engineers Australia CEO Bronwyn Evans and University of Sydney humanitarian engineer Dr Aaron Opdyke, students from a range of disciplines were asked to develop solutions to major humanitarian issues. 

Topics included climate change-induced population displacement, educating for the future, aiding island communities and the provision of clean water. 

“With growing humanitarian needs and limited funding, innovative solutions are vital to assist the most vulnerable groups in new and efficient ways,” said Executive Director of The Warren Centre, Ashley Brinson.

“The Humanitarian Hackathon encourages and rewards university students to create cutting-edge solutions that could save lives and make a positive impact on people around the world."

The Warren Centre’s Melanie De Gioia said it was fantastic to see so many students from around Australia coming together for the annual event and collaborating online to hack for good.

“This year’s hackathon was an unqualified success, with over 22,000 Slack messages in just three days and over fifty mentors from around the world volunteering their time,” said Ms De Gioia. 

“With wonderful partners and supporters, we provided a prestigious line up of speakers and judges ­­– it was wonderful to have been a key part of the hackathon’s development and success.”

Cleaner water for a cleaner future: Super Sand School initiative

RedR Ron Johnston Rapid Response Prize, $5,000 cash

Fresh water is a substance many of us take for granted, but it makes up only three percent of the world’s total supply of water.

The cost-effective and chemical-free sand filter removes harmful impurities. Credit: The Warren Centre

In Vanuatu, water equality is a significant issue, with clean drinking water scarce due to a lack of infrastructure available to all communities. 

In response, a team of students named ‘H2ArchipelagO’ created an idea for an efficient, cost-effective and portable sand filter to allow small communities to access clean drinking water. The chemical-free sand filter removes harmful impurities.

General Sir Peter Cosgrove commended the students on their presentation, saying it was a “practical solution” to an important issue.

“O le taeao afua” – a new dawn for health in Tokelau

Pacific Telecommunications Council First Prize for Best Humanitarian Digital Innovation

With a population of 1,500, Tokelau is a tiny, remote Pacific community that is only accessible by boat.

Access to healthcare is a huge challenge, and the population has high rates of lung disease and diabetes. With no airstrip, Tokelauans must travel great distances by boat across the Pacific Ocean to seek medical care.

The spirometer would be in-built with a Wi-Fi system to transmit data to health clinics in the region, and would be easy-to-use with a biodegradable mouthpiece. Credit: The Warren Centre

Student team, ‘Grey’s Humanity’, developed the design for a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly medical device – a spirometer – to help with the diagnosis, management and monitoring of lung disease.

The sustainable diagnostic solution would be in-built with a Wi-Fi system to transmit data to health clinics in the region, and would be easy-to-use with a biodegradable mouthpiece.

University of Sydney academic and expert in humanitarian engineering, Dr Aaron Opdyke said, “The team has developed an effective, affordable solution that draws on local expertise and skills.”

Keeping Kiribati diaspora connected to culture and heritage

Pacific Telecommunications Council / Beyond Essential Humanitarian Internship Appointment

It’s well known that the Italian city of Venice is sinking, but few are aware that an entire country, the Republic of Kiribati – a nation of islands and atolls in the Pacific Ocean, is set to disappear completely by the end of the century.

Estimated to disappear in as little as 80 years, the entire population of Kiribati will be forced to relocate to “higher ground” countries as climate change refugees.

The app would allow displaced Kiribatians to access information about Kiribati culture. Credit: The Warren Centre

The country is now faced with the challenge of how to protect and promote the heritage of 115,000 people who call Kiribati home.

The student team, ‘Winter is Not Coming’developed a virtual, interactive database concept to preserve and promote Kiribati culture.

The app would allow displaced Kiribatians to access information about Kiribati culture such as cuisine, festivities and language, as well as more hidden, deeper cultural values such as etiquette, attitudes to age and body language.

The app would exist as a 3-D, 360° virtual “world”, where users could virtually walk around Kiribati and interact with videos, voice recordings and photos captured by locals. The data would be uploaded to a centralised site as a cultural time capsule, and would be maintained by museums, universities and the United Nations.

Engineers Australia CEO, Bronwyn Evans said the solution was “a sophisticated view of island economies”.

Garden app to re-connect displaced Tuvalu culture

Pacific Telecommunications Council Second Prize For Best Humanitarian Digital Innovation

Just like Kiribati, Pacific Island nation Tuvalu is experiencing rising sea levels. Within the last 20 years the ocean has risen at roughly twice the global average with consequences compounded by king tides and La Niña effects.  Sea level rise has already threatened communities, with many forced to migrate to Fiji, leaving their families behind.

The app would operate as an Internet-of-Things (IoT) garden, connecting displaced Tuvaluans with their families back home. Credit: The Warren Centre

Student group, ‘Fortitude’, created the blueprint for a gardening app that would help already displaced Tuvaluans connect with their culture, community and families.

Described by General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Elizabeth Taylor AO as “innovative” and “brilliant”, the app would operate as an Internet-of-Things (IoT) garden, connecting displaced Tuvaluans with their families back home through the creation of “sister gardens” both in Fiji and Tuvalu.

The sister gardens would feature simple and cost effective IoT sensors such as a live webcam, electronic thermometers and salinity tests, and would feature a forum to share information about climate resistant agriculture, gardening and plant tips.

Bronwyn Evans said the gardening app was an “interesting use of Internet of Things technology that would allow communities to be part of the digital future.”

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