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    This non-profit claims to use Microsoft's AI tools to help the vulnerable battle climate change

    This non-profit claims to use Microsoft's AI tools to help the vulnerable battle climate change

    This non-profit claims to use Microsoft's AI tools to help the vulnerable battle climate change
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    By Vijay Anand   IST (Published)

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    SEEDs, founded in 2017 by Anshu Sharma, is a beneficiary of Microsoft’s AI for Humanitarian Action grant. The non-profit said it has developed an AI model to predict the impact of cyclones, earthquakes or heat waves in any given area.

    SEEDS, a New Delhi-based disaster response and preparedness non-profit organisation has deployed Artificial Intelligence-based tools in collaboration with Microsoft India to help the most vulnerable fight off the effects of climate change. Just a few months ago, India reeled under an unprecedented heatwave.
    SEEDs, founded in 2017 by Anshu Sharma, is a beneficiary of Microsoft’s AI for Humanitarian Action grant. The non-profit said it has developed an AI model to predict the impact of cyclones, earthquakes or heat waves in any given area.
    Heatwaves, especially, are a cause for worry and researchers say they have a disproportionate effect on some of the world’s poorest communities. In fact, researchers say the slum pockets in the country face the heat more than other parts of any city by as much as 6°C.
    “In the slums, houses are often made of tin sheets, which heat up much faster compared to other materials," says Anshu Sharma.
    Sharma says Sunny Lives has generated heat wave risk information for around 1.25 lakh slum residents slums in New Delhi and Nagpur — two cities susceptible to intense heat waves.
    According to Sharma, if you don’t live in a house made from the right kind of materials, it could be hotter indoors than it is outdoors.
    “Suppose the outdoor temperature is about 38°C," she explains, "if you’re in a tin shack in a slum, the indoor temperature can be as high as 45°C. And it’s the older people, and young children, who spend the day indoors, that suffer.”
    Most homes built in India's shantytowns are made of makeshift construction materials that trap more heat, and further, roofs are often made of tin sheets and houses are crammed together without windows or ventilation, says Sharma.
    In mid-May, the India Meteorological Department reported record high temperatures between 45°C (113°F) and 50°C (122°F) in several parts of the country. With climate change upon us, experts say we must brace for more intense heatwaves in the years to come.
    According to a study published in the Weather and Climate Extremes journal last year, India saw more than double the number of heat waves between 2000-2019 than it did between 1980-1999.
    “In the future, these kinds of heat waves are going to be normal,” Professor Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said in a recent report.
    Sharma says SEEDS’ biggest challenge was to quantify the dangers of a heatwave as, unlike cyclones, floods or earthquakes, the effects of a heatwave are invisible.  to communicate the dangers of a heat wave. Unlike floods, earthquakes or cyclones, the impact of a heat wave is not exactly visible.
    According to Sharma, SEEDS uses the Sunny Lives AI model to provide a risk map for a particular area. On the map, each building is color-coded according to its “risk score", which is computed using built-up density, vegetation, proximity of the building to a water body, and roof-type. 
    This risk map, Sharma says, can be overlaid onto a regular map on a smartphone, which makes it handy for on-field volunteers.
    Further, to build awareness, Sharma says SEEDS organises quizzes, contests, and focus group discussions with help from schools, NGOs, and volunteer groups, who do door-to-door campaigns throughout Delhi.
    “People don’t care if we tell them that the risk score is five for your house,” Mridula Garg, lead for Urban and Built Environment at SEEDS, said. “But incorporating the whole messaging into our quiz really helped. We got them to answer questions about their household surroundings and helped them come up with their own risk scores.”
    In the last couple of years, SEEDS says it has reached out to 23 slum communities in East Delhi with this participatory approach. Their first point of contact was schoolchildren, who are generally more receptive to new information and bubbling with ideas.
    Now that it has an actionable model, SEEDS is scaling up its efforts and engaging with various state governments in India to extend its model to middle- and high-income group areas. At the COP-26 summit last year, India had pledged to go carbon neutral by 2070.
    “Governments are now asking us to extend our AI model to come up with a science-based approach to reduce carbon footprint and carbon emissions,” Sharma said. “So we’re running the model in other residential areas too, over these flat concrete roofs (of multistorey buildings) and looking at what kind of surge in energy use will happen if there is a heat wave and how we can reduce that.”
    What began as a disaster response organization is now moving towards addressing the looming question of climate change. This work could potentially have global applications.
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