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How Can We Harness the Internet of Things for Global Development?

By Wayan Vota on January 20, 2016


I am a firm believer in the coming sensor revolution in development. We can now develop very cheap yet smart sensors, and as we saw at the MERL Tech conference session, “Sensors for MERL: What Works? What Does Not? What Have We Learned?”, our peers are already deploying them for development objectives. That’s why I’m excited about the new report by Cisco and the ITU on sensors for international development.
Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development explores how sensors and the connectivity technologies associated with the Internet of Things (IoT), is improving development activities in research, policy formulation, service delivery and monitoring and evaluation across a range of different sectors including agriculture, sanitation, natural resource management, energy, and others.

The report highlights projects currently deploying sensors and connectivity technologies to show how the IoT can be used directly to improve development outcomes. As John Garrity, co-author of the report puts it;

“Much of the impact of the IoT is currently concentrated in developed economies. In this report, we want to focus attention on examples of where development projects in developing countries are already benefiting from the IoT.”

The report details various IoT functionalities (types and costs of sensors and wireless technologies) and introduces over twenty IoT project implementations where low cost sensors and connectivity are improving lives, such as:

  • In healthcare, where cellular enabled thermometers are helping to protect the ‘cold chain’ of critical vaccine delivery to remote and rural areas via real-time monitoring of temperatures in cold storage units;
  • In water delivery, sensors that monitor and water flow are tracking when village hand water pumps break and then alert local authorities, municipal utility providers and donor agencies, helping to reduce the downtime of water pumps providing critical water service; and
  • In densely occupied informal urban settlements, networked smoke and fire sensors placed in homes are able to signal and warn residents, and neighbors, of potential fast moving fires, saving lives and property.

Sensors in development is still at a nascent level and the report acknowledges that there are many obstacles to widespread deployment, from technical challenges (e.g. reliability, power, connectivity) to policy issues (e.g. interoperability, security, privacy). The authors hope however the report broadens the conversation on how ICTs, particularly the IoT, can play a positive role in development.

Let Us Explore IoT4D Together

FHI 360 and Cisco are organizing an event on January 29th in Washington, DC to take a critical look at the role of sensors and other Internet of Things devices and how they can be used to increase development outcomes. This half-day morning event will dive deep into current uses and future applications, with hands-on explorations of potential solutions for your programs.

Please RSVP now to share examples of where the IoT is improving aspects of development work, learn who is doing impressive interventions, and define the limitations, constraints and concerns with the growing use of IoT in development. An RSVP is required to attend.


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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One Comment to “How Can We Harness the Internet of Things for Global Development?”

  1. Charles Marc says:

    Wayan, Yes i agree with you …… The number of mobile devices composing the IoT will be big:There is a school of thought that in 2020 between 12 and 50 billion devices are expected to be connected with each other, a 12 to 50-fold increase from 2012. This implies that the traffic generated will explode. The huge amount of traffic will require standardized interfaces and IP address utilization, such as IPv6 which especially in Africa we luck., yet, the availability of this “big data” can be leveraged to make inferences about a lot of things. I am giddy with excitement how IoT with its scientific application will be of relevance look to Developing Countries, with a focus on low-cost, open and sustainable solutions.