Saturday, December 9, 2023

These women are using technology to protect the planet

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The SeaWomen of Melanesia are saving coral reefs

Coral reefs the world over are under siege from climate change, overfishing and pollution. Since 2009 alone, almost 14 per cent of the world’s corals have disappeared, according to a 2020 report supported by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The SeaWomen of Melanesia are hoping to reverse that decline. The group’s 30-plus members chart the health of the fragile coral reefs that surround Melanesia, a grouping of island nations in the South Pacific, and work with local communities to protect and restore these underwater cities.

The SeaWomen undergo rigorous training in marine science, which is supplemented by practical lessons in reef survey techniques, including the use of GPS technology.

“When you train a woman, you train a society,” said Evangelista Apelis, co-director of the SeaWomen programme in Papua New Guinea. “We’re trying to educate women, get women on board, so they can then go back and make an impact in their own families and their society as well.”

Nzambi Matee gives plastic a second life

In 2017, Nzambi Matee quit her job as a data analyst and set up a small lab in her mother’s back yard. There, she began developing paving stones made from a combination of recycled plastic and sand. It would take her years to refine her formula but eventually, Matee developed robust plastic-based bricks that were cheaper and stronger than their cement counterparts.

Today, she leads Gjenge Makers, an up-and-coming Kenyan company that supplies plastic paving stones to schools across the country.

Matee’s work is helping to counter what experts have called an epidemic of plastic pollution. About 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic produced from 1950-2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped.

“The negative impact we are having on the environment is huge,” said Matee. “It’s up to us to make this reality better.” 

Maria Kolesnikova keeps tabs on Kyrgyzstan’s air quality

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental health threats of our time, killing an estimated 7 million people a year

While volunteering with MoveGreen, a youth-led environmental organization in Kyrgyzstan, Maria Kolesnikova became concerned about the poor air quality in Bishkek, home to roughly 1 million people and among the world’s most-polluted cities.

This inspired Kolesnikova and colleagues to deploy special sensors that measure the concentration of airborne pollutants, including the tiny particle PM2.5 and its larger cousin, PM10. Today, MoveGreen has more than 100 sensors spread across the country’s two largest cities – Bishkek and Osh – which pipe data to a smartphone app.

“We wanted to understand more about what was in the air that we are breathing, and what data the city was collecting in order to try and make things better,” said Kolesnikova, now the director of Move Green. “But we didn’t find any relevant, actual data. So, we decided to produce data ourselves.”

International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8 March, is an opportunity to recognize women and girls championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education. The observance will explore the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities, and it will spotlight the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces and addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence.

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