By Sahana Ghosh (IANS)
Crowdsourcing information can aid in early warning, says an American researcher who is working to scale up a satellite-based map of hydropower projects in the Himalayas into a mobile-phone based alert system using inputs from citizens.
Anthropologist Kelly D. Alley said people who are facing any kind of a threat related to dam infrastructure can post the information on a common platform to benefit others likely to be next in line to deal with the repercussions of the existing known danger.
Alley spearheaded the development of a satellite-based, interactive map of hydropower projects in the Himalayas called the Ganga-Brahmaputra project.
Completed in December 2014, the project maps all the hydroelectric projects across the Himalayas, from the Indus river basin to the Mekong with a focus on hydel projects located within the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) basin.
The other aspect of the project tackles wastewater management infrastructure and river sites that are important to the waste water or hydropower infrastructures.
Built on Geographical Information System (GIS) software, the database allows users to zoom in and access links to pictures, regulations, policies and laws that relate to each dam, each component of the wastewater management system, or related regional and national reports, said Alley.
“I want to incorporate citizen’s inputs to help visualise the problem. Let’s say you have a map and somebody is endangered from a wastewater situation that could be a part of the map. An alert system would come into their system (mobile phone),” Alley, a professor of anthropology at Auburn University in Alabama, told IANS during a visit here.
The crowdsourcing method, an extension of the map, will be more handy in case of dams, said Alley.
“Somebody says that the water was just released from this dam and then people 20 km downstream could get an alert and that’s my vision,” Alley said, adding the cost wouldn’t be much and she is currently discussing the idea with her group.
Alley has carried out research in northern India for over 20 years, focussing on public culture and environmental issues. She is fascinated with the Ganges and appreciates the “engagement that people have with the river”, something she says has been lost in the US.
Author of books such as “On the Banks of the Ganga: When Wastewater Meets a Sacred River” that explores Hindu interpretations of the sacred river in the light of environmental problems, Alley’s inter-disciplinary team includes researchers from India and Nepal, who worked on the mapping project for two years.
Underscoring the importance of citizen monitoring and people working in sync with scientists, Alley said a simple camera or smartphone could become a major tool in crowdsourcing-based alerts, which is already a hit in the US and other countries.
“If you have a camera or even a cell phone which is GPS enabled, you can take a picture. It tells you the exact location and then we transfer that on to our map.
“So let’s say you have a picture of a drain and some industry is letting out wastewater at night. You can take a picture of it and put it on the map site so that people would know. The whole point is to visualise it so that you can figure out what to do,” the scientist explained.
Some of Alley’s other notable publications include “Water Wealth and Energy in the Indian Himalayas” and “The Developments, Policies and Assessments of Hydropower in the Ganga River Basin”, the result of her work in the Brahmaputra basin and in Varanasi.
Having worked with local NGOs, scientists and activists, Alley acknowledged the role and contribution of the public.
“What things can you do if citizens start to take an interest in mapping the conditions in their own city! It is kind of like how Facebook started,” said the researcher who is currently studying water governance in the GBM basin.
In the city, Alley released her paper titled “Challenges for hydropower governance in Brahmaputra basin: Informality, Documentality and Citizen Mandamus”, which will be part of a book and will be put in the public domain soon.
(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)