Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ICT and The Environment: Hazardous places in Cameroon and enhancing environmental behaviour using ICT Why and How?


The environment can be described as the relationships that exist between things and people, things and things and between people (Rapoport 1977, cited in Chen, 1993, p.58). The environment can also ‘consists of all, or any, of the following media, namely, the air, water and land; and the medium of air includes the air within buildings and the air within other natural or man-made structures above or below ground’ (Porteous, 2008, p.250). In other terms the environment is where we live; it is the site of various forms of interactions of a biochemical, social, informational, learning, virtual, psychological, economical and physical nature. These interactions can also be considered environments for instance the biochemical environment in the guts of humans or in the homes they live, the social environment in a city such as Douala or in a website such as Google +, the psychological environment of a family, the learning environment of a school or a work place or a website, the virtual environment of a social network such as facebook or twitter, the economical environment of developing countries (e.g. Cameroon) and the physical environment of a town such as Yaoundé. Stapps (1997, p.32), opines that the biophysical environment designates the natural and man-made component of the environment. The man-made components of the biophysical environment result from man’s uses of natural resources to satisfy his needs (Stapp, 1997, p.34). Be it at school, at work, in the streets, at home, in front of a computer, we are in one way or the other interacting with the environment. The evolution of mankind from an agricultural, through an industrial to an information age (Toffler, 1980 cited in Baloch and Kareem (n.d) has in all cases had serious consequences on the environment. These consequences have led to environmental problems. Baumster and Bushman (2011, E1) have identified four environmental problems: overpopulation, environmental quality, scarcity of natural resources and environmental disaster. All these problems are intertwined and interrelated in a complex manner. The environment affects all aspects of our lives, our moods, health, cognitive skills, sexuality in brief our behaviour (how we feel, think and act). It is for these reasons it is important to pay more-than-an ordinary attention on environmental issues which are a daily experience and which affect our lives. 

Culture both in the senses of Omolewa (2007, p.600) citing Coombs, (1985) ; Lawton,(1975) Mair, (1972); Maquet, (1997) ‘everything that characterizes a society such as language, technological artefacts, skills, knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, attitudes, ideas, behaviour, laws, traditions, customs and values’ and Stapp (1997, p.34) ‘the incorporation of organizational strategies, technological processes, and social arrangements (political, legal, managerial, educational , etc) through which man interacts  with the biophysical environment’, affects the way we perceive our environment. Furthermore, the decisions we make influences positively or negatively on our environment since we are part of a system of interactions.

There is therefore a pressing need because we all belong to the planet earth, and all face and have faced in one way or the other environmental problems, because we belong to various nationalities, various neighborhoods, various homes, to be aware and knowledgeable about environmental issues and best ways to solve them. In this vein, a systematic understanding and integration of environmental education in all levels and forms of education (traditional/indigenous or modern) is necessary and imperative for all citizens of the world. In fact, environmental education is
a process aimed at developing  a world population that is aware  of and concerned about the total environment and its associated problems , and has the attitudes, motivations, knowledge , commitment , and skills,  to work individually and collectively  towards solutions of current problems and prevention of new ones’ Tbilisi (1977) cited in Stapp (1997, p.36).
Stapp 1997, (p.34-35) posits that the major objectives of environmental education are to help individuals acquire:

-          A clear understanding that man is an inseparable part of a system, consisting of man, culture, and the biophysical environment and than man has the ability to alter the relationships of this system.
-          A broad understanding of the biophysical environment, both natural and man-made, and its role in contemporary society.

-          A fundamental understanding  of the biophysical environmental problems confronting man, how these problems can be solved and the responsibility, of citizens and government to work  towards solutions.

-          Attitudes of concern for the quality of the biophysical environment which will motivate citizens to participate in biophysical environmental problem-solving.
In addition to this the aim of environmental education is a moral and ethical activity since ‘it is aimed at producing a citizenry that is knowledgeable concerning the biophysical environment and its associated problems, aware of how to help solve these problems and motivated to work towards their solutions’ (Stapp, 1997, p.34).It is the responsibility of every citizen and governments to provide the solutions to the environmental problems they face (Stapp, 1997 p.35).

ICT and Kulture seeks through its work to enhance ICT awareness and ICT knowledge through education using ICTs. Via this paper, ICT and Kulture seeks to highlight the importance of environmental education in the information age and its implications for students, ICT specialist, computer science teachers, social science researchers, and governments. Moreover it wants to provide bits of solutions to current (environmental) problems using the potential of the information society. In the next part of this article shall be discussed hazardous zones in Cameroon and the paper will end showing how ICT can enhance environmental behaviour within a Cameroonian context. With respect to the word context, Wapner and Demick cited in Bechtel and Churchman, (2002, p.4) suggests Stokols (1987) definitions of context and the difference he makes between contextual and non-contextual research are note worthy. Stokols (1987) has defined “contexts” as “everyday environmental settings” and then as “. . . the situational boundaries of psychological phenomena . . .” Wapner and Demick cited in Bechtel and Churchman, (2002, p.11) opine that generally there are six contexts, namely, the physical, psychological (intrapersonal), and sociocultural contexts of the person which is analogous to the physical, interpersonal, and sociocultural contexts of the environment. More specifically they opine “that there are an infinite number of specific situations or contexts within each of the previous six more general contexts, which include aspects of both the person and the environment.” It is based on their approach this paper is based

I-                   Hazardous places in Cameroon.

The International Council For Science  Union (ICSU, 2007)  in a report submitted at the 28th General Assembly of the International Council for Science in 2005 revealed that the risks posed by natural and human-induced hazards and disasters are rapidly increasing worldwide. For example, the frequency of recorded natural disasters rose markedly during the last century, from about 100 per decade up to 1940, to nearly 2800 per decade during the 1990s. Africa is the only continent whose actual share of reported disasters has increased over the past decade (OFDA-CRED, 2002 cited in Mulugeta et al., 2007).

Hazardous is a term which refers to things or situation which involve risk or danger, especially to people’s health or safety (Oxford Dictionary). A hazard is a situation that posses a treat and often will need a risk assessment (Porteous, 2008). Hazards can be thought of as natural or man-made. For the purpose of this paper the term hazardous shall be categorized into constant, temporal and potential hazardous places or zones. By doing so a sort of evaluation of the potential risky nature of the zones is claimed. A constant hazardous place refers to an environment which is permanently eliciting environmental cues with an effective influence on biological life. For instance the constant noise produced in industrial zones. A temporal hazardous place is an environment which has an acute potential to become hazardous under specific conditions e,g. normally dry areas which receive abundant rain falls for more or less longer periods can produce floods. Potential hazardous places are environments which under normal conditions are not hazardous but because of their nature can become hazardous at any moment e.g. Mt Fako, subquarters and so on. 

Mulugeta et al., (2007) have divided the concept hazards into two categories natural and human induced and further make a difference between a hazard and a disaster. Examples of hazards include: hydro-metrological hazards e.g. floods and flash floods, droughts; geological hazards e.g. earthquakes, volcanoes and explosive crater lakes, landslides, mudflows; Biological hazards e.g. epidemics, pests; astrophysical hazards e.g. space weather, meteorite impact; human-induced hazards and disasters e.g. air and water pollution , toxic waste disposal , land degradation. In Cameroon there are constant hazardous areas, and a variety of zones which can become hazardous or have the potential to become so and finally temporal hazardous areas. Such zones constitute risky spots which require environmental impact assessment (EIA) and risk assessments. Furthermore, Cameroon like any nation has been subjected to natural and human-induced hazards and disasters. In 2012 in various areas of Cameroon natural disasters such as landslides, floods occurred. This paper is going to discuss about constant hazardous, potential and temporal hazardous zones in Cameroon. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but indicative and most a ground for investigation by the scientific community. 

A - Potential Hazardous Places

a-      Mount Cameroon in the South West Region

The South West region is the site of Cameroon Mountain (Mount Fako). Mount Fako is the highest peak in West and Central Africa (4070 meters), an active volcano which last erupted in 2003. The presence of Mt Fako within this region constitutes a hazard because Mt Fako, an active mountain so it can enter into activity at any moment. The eruption of a mountain such as the Fako produces a lot of toxic gases and particulate matter which is likely to led to respiratory track disease, cancer and even death. These gases alter visibility on land and in the air. Moreover, eruptions might often be accompanied by mild earthquakes which are likely to threaten the lives of individuals. The last eruption of Mount Fako caused a lot of human and material damage.

B- Temporary Hazardous place

b-     The Lake Nyos and lake Manoun

Cameroon also has about 34 crater lakes, some of which like Nyos (21 August 1986) and Manoun (15 August 1984) emitted lethal gases which killed hundreds of humans and animals. The Lake Nyos is found in the North West Region and is characterized as one of the few lakes in the world that can emit carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 is a gas which is naturally exhaled in the process of respiration but when inhaled it impairs with the functioning of body muscles especially the brain. The government of Cameroon has been doing efforts to prevent this hazard by degasifying the lake since then.

C- Constant Hazardous Areas

c-       Industrial Zones in Douala, Yaoundé, and other heavy constructions going on in the country (South, Kribi, and East Region)

Cameroon is now the site of several heavy constructions going on in virtually all its regions for instance a gas-fired thermal power station of Kribi in South; the Lom Pangar Hydropower dam in the East, hydroelectrical central of Memve’ele on the Ntem river in the South; the   Hydroelectric Dam of the Mékin in the South region and so on. In the same line, Douala the economical capital of Cameroon has most of the industries in the country. Yaoundé has a few. These heavy constructions transform the natural environment and produce hazardous waste. Moreover, the localization of industries occupy vast areas of land which in normal circumstances are used for settlement and farming. Artificial disaster and environmental pollution can likely occur as a result of these human activities.  Industrial zones are risky and dangerous because of the high level of toxic thus pathogenic material they produce both in the form of gas and solid material. These (hazardous) wastes often go into the air for the gases thus polluting it in the water for the liquid waste and in the soil for the solid waste. The pollution of the environment is the major hazardous issue of industrialized zones. The construction, of dams, ports, mining ores and other big facilities in the country are also potential hazardous zones since the earth crust is been dug which can result to landslides, the air been polluted, nature in all cases is affected by the presence of big machines, and chemicals used in this sites.

II-                Enhancing environmental behaviour using ICT why and how?

Environmental psychology can be thought as a branch of psychology which studies environmental behaviour. Environmental behaviour has to do with how people relate/interact to/with their physical environment. Enhancing environmental behaviour using ICT might seem to be a huge paradox taking into account that all human activities have an influence - and most of the time a negative one - on the environment. In other words, is the desirability quotient (DQ= Benefits of ICT divided by the Risks brought by ICT) of ICT worth it?
There is serious research done on the issue. For instance, on one hand Minasyan (2006) opines that ‘the positive impact of ICT on the environment is immeasurably high and so, outweighs its potentially negative impact.’ On the other hand, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2009) in an attempt to measure the relationship between ICT and the environment found that:
“While the links between ICT and environmental outcomes are becoming clearer, there is no separate statistical field that links the two. Nevertheless, some data are available from official statistical sources, from analytical work and from product life cycle studies…Given the serious environmental problems facing  the world,  and the potential for ICT to both lessen and worsen those problems, it is suggested that this field should be of more interest to official statisticians.  A number of actions are recommended  and they  include:  conducting new or expanded household and business surveys, expanding  statistical  classifications to  better reflect ICT and the environment, ensuring that sample sizes are sufficient to enable better  identification  of ICT  and environment data, and producing time series data on the topic …”

In the same vein, William (2011, p.354) purports thatthe digital revolution affects the environment on several levels. Most directly, information and communications technology (ICT) has environmental impacts through the manufacturing, operation and disposal of devices and network equipmenteven if William (2011, p.354) still thinks 

it also provides ways to mitigate energy use, for example through smart buildings and teleworking. At a broader system level, ICTs influence economic growth and bring about technological and societal change. Managing the direct impacts of ICTs is more complex than just producing efficient devices, owing to the energetically expensive manufacturing process, and the increasing proliferation of devices needs to be taken into account.”

There is further concern by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU, 2008) which certainly acknowledges the effects of all activities including the use of ICT on planet earth as a result of the energy consuming nature of ICT, but the ITU (2008, p.ix) affirms that   ‘ICT’s ‘offer a number of opportunities to advance global environmental research, planning and action. This includes monitoring and protecting the environment as well as mitigation of an adaptation to climate change.’ Moreover, ITU (2008, p.ix) 
“presents the results of research that demonstrate that ICTs can help to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while increasing energy efficiency and reducing the use of natural resources. This is achieved through the use of ICTs for travel replacement, dematerialization and reduced energy consumption”

From the evidences discussed, the relationship between the environment and ICT is still not clear albeit an alleged impact of the ICT on the environment. On an experiential base, each an every citizen of the global electronic village can ask then try to answer the following question by themselves
Does my use of ICTs (radio, TV, internet, mobile, fixed phone) have an impact on the/my environment?
According to ITU (2008), ICTs can contribute to enhance the protection of the environment in the sense of e-Environment.
What is e-Environment? E-Environment is 
“The use and promotion of ICTs as an  instrument for environmental protection and the sustainable use of natural resources; b) The initiation of actions and  implementation of projects and programmes for sustainable production and  consumption and the environmentally safe disposal and recycling of discarded  hardware and components used in ICTs, and; c) The establishment of  monitoring systems, using ICTs, to forecast and monitor the impact of natural  and man-made disasters, particularly in developing countries, LDCs and small economies” (ITU, 2008).

According to Bueti (2012), there are a common set of methodologies called ITU-T methodologies without which it would have been impossible to provide meaningful comparisons between the use , impact of ICT in countries. The ITY-T methodologies also help businesses to be aware of environmental issues and to take it seriously. Recommendations published with respect to these methodologies are available on the ITU-T website: and include:

L.1400 Overview and general principles
L.1410 Environmental impact of ICT goods, networks and services
L.1420 Environmental impact of ICT in organizations
There are equally other recommendations under preparation for instance
L.1430 Environmental impact of ICT projects (consent expected in 2013)
L.1440 Environmental impact of ICT in cities (consent expected in 2013)
L.1450 Environmental impact of ICT in countries (consent expected in 2014)

Houghton (2009, p.40-41) has a more refined overview of the ICT-environment situation in the world. He thinks that ‘the relationship between ICTs and the environment is complex and multifaceted, as ICTs can play both positive and negative roles. And that the impacts of ICT on the environment can be direct and indirect. From this base provided by the evidences above it is imperative to know why enhancing environmental behaviour is important

Why enhance environmental behaviour and how?

Views of the environment of Cameroon/North West Region  Photo Didier Demasso
Environmental issues are a universal concern because of the interconnectedness of environmental elements (man and nature and the built environment) which leads to most cases to the butterfly effect. The ecosystem is interconnected, interdependent and interrelated such that the least change in an amount of a specific element creates significant influences/changes on the rest of the system even if it might take time. It is noteworthy that the environment affords us with good and bad things. In fact, understanding the concept of environmental affordance (Chen 1993) coined by J.J Gifford makes us to understand that the environment is somehow ‘interested in our well being’ and it would be very normal since we are dependent on it to do the same. In fact, ‘environment-centered theories such as the spiritual–instrumental model and ecopsychology raise the issue of the environment’s own welfare and its ability to support our own well-being’ (Gifford et al., 2010. p.442). Logically, harming the environment implies harming our selves. ICTs e.g. internet, mobile phone, television and the radio are very useful technologies in the case for instance of environmental disaster. It was very useful especially internet during the Haiti catastrophe. However, in other for these technologies to be used effectively and efficiently, individuals and communities should acquire the right attitudes and behaviours and within a well structured framework or context.
A vivid understanding of environmental psychology, environmental behaviour, pro-social behaviour and environmental education are of prime importance in a world like ours plagued by environmental issues with curbing them being a universal concern. Pro-social behaviour refers to ‘doing something that is good for other people or for society as a whole’ (Baumster and Bushman, 2011). Environmental behaviour can be considered to be a pro-social behaviour in our context. The need to invest in environmental education that is 
a process aimed at developing  a world population that is aware  of and concerned about the total environment and its associated problems , and has the attitudes, motivations, knowledge , commitment , and skills,  to work individually and collectively  towards solutions of current problems and prevention of new ones” Tbilisi (1977) cited in Stapp (1997, p.36).
is more than just a mere desire to invest in education. It has to do with safeguarding the very essence of human life that is being made to belong to God, the Primordial Conscience (Valdimir Antonov), all things belong to this Primordial Conscience. We are all connected by virtue of our presence in the universe. Our co-presences are reciprocal and to all levels of the universe. This is in fact the major premise of ecology. To a lesser extent but very intricately linked to the first one, environmental education highlights ‘environmental psychology as a contributor to sustainability science’ Gifford (2007). The ethics of science cannot be undermined.
The use of ICT to enhance environmental behaviour is imperative because ICT’s affects all aspects of our human lives. ICTs have become an inherent aspect of human civilization, a normal stage in human evolution – in the sense of Toffler, (1980). Moreover, we are living in a context where the internet unique  is connecting the physical world in a rapid and almost totally interactive manner in what  to what has been termed the  Global Electronic village enables reality of another nature, cyberspace to exist. Culture and culture and internet are now interdependent. ICT and Kulture is a product of Culture, culture and internet. It is for these reasons there is a need for a global concern on using ICTs to enhance environmental behaviour. How can this be done?

Views of the environment of Cameroon here beautiful Hills on a rainy day North West Region  Photo Didier De Masso

How can ICT be used to enhance environmental behaviour?
From the 23 to the 25 of July 2013 will be held in Yaoundé capital of Cameroon the Fourth Edition of  Excellence Days of Scientific Research and Innovation (JERSIC 2013)  under the theme: “Scientific research and technology in the face of natural catastrophes in Cameroon: Challenges and the way forward” (Cameroon Tribune Online, 2013). The aim of these days is for the Cameroonian scientific community and innovators “to discuss the role of scientific research and innovation in pre-empting natural disasters, examine results obtained thus far and jointly seek ways of networking to dot the country with a disaster management plan capable of efficiently handling impending disasters.” This event is welcomed as it enables the Cameroonian scientific community to be engaged into deep reflections on environmental issues. Moreover, it is a platform where solutions to the existing environmental problems can be developed and environmental education initiated more thoroughly.
In Africa the increase in the number of mobile subscriptions so as access and usage of internet can be considered as major indicators of the increase in the ICT-penetration. In fact, an analysis of the data sheets generated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU, 2013) on mobile –cellular subscription, individuals using internet, access of ICT by households reveals that there is a tremendous increase of these within the African region  albeit the presence of  a digital divide. Even if there is still a lot of information unknown about how individuals consume effectively ICT in Cameroon the data and statistics provided by ITU (2013) enabled us to make interesting inferences. Cameroon is often referred to as ‘Africa in miniature’ (Tangwa, 2011) has not been spared from the massive influence of ICTs. Smartphone are now as popular as never before. Because of environmental issues such as climate change, environmental disasters a new mindset has to be acquired by the citizen of the world in general and by the African-Cameroonian in particular. As Yurish (2013) says “communication functions such as calls and texting are no longer the main focus for Smartphone’. Smartphones can also be used to protect the environment if they are constructed with special technologies such as sensors (Yurish, 2013).We could think of sensors for heat and noise both aspects of environmental quality which constitute one of the major environmental issues pinpointed by Baumster and Bushman, (2011, p.E2).These relatively simple sensors in Smartphone could change the lives of millions of people especially that heat and noise have been shown to impact drastically on human functioning (Baumster and Bushman, 2011, p E2). Moreover, heat and noise are also important elements during environmental disasters. Smartphone could be equipped with thermosensors which could detect bioenergy and thereby enable rescue teams to save more lives. Perhaps this technology is already functional but its application and/or re-adaptation within a southern context such as Cameroon would be interesting for the Cameroonian ICT community. In themselves, environmental disasters do not create so much harm unlike the misinformation or lack of information during such periods. That is why the transmission of real-time information with respect to an environmental disaster to Smartphone or non multimedia mobiles in the form of short message service (SMS) could save more lives. Very short and concise information concerning what is happening , what to do to minimize the risks of the hazards as a result of the environmental disaster could be the core contents of these sms’s. The use of SMS is so much appropriate within the Cameroonian context. Not only it is cheap but it is available on all types of mobiles. In addition, because protecting the environment is a universal obligation, a special data base could be created to receive information that these Smartphone gather so that the multi-disciplinary teams involved in environmental issues use the information to prevent, control and understand environmental issues. The owner of each of these mobile phones would just need to use the phones as environmental data collection tools. Photos, data from the heat and noise sensors that the phones gather should be sent to the data base via special protocols. Each Nation could begin, and then it could become a world environmental data base. Since most people won a mobile phone now individual responsibility in environmental protection could easily be assessed as well.
All around the world there exist hazardous places. In Cameroon there are a few. These places constitute part of the environment in which we live and would have to live in so long as the world exists. Being homo sapiens sapiens , we need to adopt a rational use of our savoir and savoir faire. ICTs provide us with the extended hands, legs and eyes we need to enhance environmental behaviour. This article has discussed the importance of enhancing environmental behavior using ICT. The period of our human evolution characterized by the information age implying that virtually all human activities are dependent on the use of ICTs , also because the environment affects us more than we can even think albeit that we too affect it. This article also discussed on how ICT’s can be used to enhance environmental behaviour. The use of mobile phones equipped with sensors capable of reacting to environmental cues such as heat, noise could greatly enable individuals to access to information necessary to make informed-choices and decisions with respect to the environment. Moreover, information derived these technology could form the base of environmental education


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