Seeding resilience in times of climate change
Mohammad Ali from the backwaters of Alappuzha, Kerala was forced to live in a shed with his family after his house was destroyed in a flood. He had to sell his shop so that he could rent a house for his family. His children had to be pulled out of school because his savings were wiped out. The compensation offered by the government barely made up for the financial, physical and emotional loss that Ali suffered. As climate change accelerates the frequency of extreme events, millions of lives—like Ali’s – hang in the balance. Traditional ways of responding to humanitarian needs in the aftermath of disasters are no longer tenable.
At Value Interaction Lab (V-Lab), the digital prototyping hub at Societal Thinking, we worked with SEEDS with the intent of restoring the agency and strengthening the dignity and choice of those affected by climate disasters.
Founded in 1994, SEEDS works towards building the resilience of people exposed to disasters and climate change impacts. In recent years, SEEDS has been facing challenges in keeping up with the increasing demand for disaster response.
Dr Manu Gupta, Co-Founder of SEEDS joined V-Lab with the goal of rethinking the existing disaster response framework by streamlining operations, empowering affected individuals, and fostering public-private partnerships to enhance community resilience.
The existing disaster response system has several problems, including the lack of access to financial aid, lack of transparency in assessing disaster-related loss and aid eligibility, a long wait time for public aid, limited opportunities for non-government actors to provide support and outdated systems that do not fully account for families’ losses.
Akshvi, developed by V-Lab, is positioned as the country’s damage and loss platform. It is a transparent national data platform that allows communities to assess their losses from climate change. Individuals impacted by disaster can report the scope and type of damage they have sustained, and the platform creates an e-wallet for each affected family, assigning a monetary value to their losses using a public cost database. The e-wallets can be further qualified based on the urgency of needs and degree of losses. The biggest currency of the communities was their data and we had to ensure that it was empowering and not controlling, and they had the choice to use it the way they saw fit.
“As social entrepreneurs, we may be very ambitious about the problem we may want to solve. However, this often clouds our judgement on identifying the single core that can enable change. The AHA moment in the V-Lab journey was being able to identify the core value interaction after several weeks of frustrating iterations,” Manu recalls about his experience at V-Lab.
SEEDS’ hypothesis was that involving communities in self-assessing their loss after a disaster would make the recovery process more efficient and effective. It would reduce time, effort and biases in loss assessment and provide a consolidated 360 view of losses across sectors. This would enable many more actors to participate and provide services to the communities over and beyond the government. And finally, a consolidated view of data will help uncover insights that were previously not available because of siloed data.
Risks and Assumptions
One of the biggest risks was to reimagine the conventional governance model around assessments of disaster impacts. Currently, a 100+ year old model is being followed by the government. SEEDS initial engagements with the national government indicated that while there is an appetite for rethinking the current approach, there are questions around data credibility and trustworthiness if people are allowed to self-assess their loss.
We made two significant pivots during the V-Lab journey. Firstly, the choice to make the government a custodian of an open data platform instead of having it as a stakeholder. The government is the first mover in terms of disaster and has considerable spending potential. Bringing them inside upfront was crucial to create the data infrastructure that could enable other actors to participate.
Secondly, the decision to build a data platform instead of a marketplace connecting disaster-affected communities to various actors in the ecosystem. This would distribute the ability for others to participate and solve by offering scarce resources that were previously non-existent.
“For me, the V-Lab exercise truly helped in understanding the ‘platform’ model and its architecture. The shift was achieved through several practical iterations that we undertook in prototyping the model,” shared Manu.
The prototype was conducted in three states with the involvement of local NGOs and government entities. It was tested with 2,000 households affected by floods and landslides. The results showed that:
- Communities suffered cumulative losses worth $2 Million from floods, which is more than half their average yearly income.
- Housing was the hardest hit, impacting communities financially, physically, and emotionally.
- The losses suffered by communities were 2.5 times higher than the compensation offered, making recovery difficult.
- There were secondary impacts, such as women not having access to toilets because households couldn’t restore their shelter and sanitation areas.
- The needs for assistance were both immediate and long-term, with floods causing not only the loss of crops or equipment but also making the land unsuitable for cultivation.
- Insurance coverage for livelihood assets was limited and uneven.
To further enhance the impact of the loss platform, it is crucial to align it with government programs and communicate its value through various media channels. We plan to create additional features, such as user-friendly interfaces, as well as develop more practical applications. Furthermore, regular communication and collaboration with the government at both national and state levels should be maintained.
With India working with the grouping of the least developed countries to keep the focus on compensation as worsening weather hurts their economies, I believe Akshvi can be a platform that can restore agency, dignity and choice among those hit most by climate change.
Interested to learn more about our work at V-Lab? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org