Why climate start-ups in South Asia are a necessary alternative

Climate start-ups in South Asia offer a necessary alternative
26 September, 2023

Climate change has emerged as a pressing global issue, with South Asia being one of the most vulnerable regions. Recent climate disasters, including severe floods, have only served to reinforce this concern.

Despite the region's strong agricultural capabilities, the depletion of fertile land, water scarcity, and resource scarcity leave it increasingly vulnerable to climate-related risks. In response, many are turning to the tech industry for solutions, with "climate tech" gaining popularity among start-ups worldwide.

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However, it is worth noting that this trend is primarily observed in countries of the Global North. While global energy investments have surged by 12% annually since 2020, investments in South Asia have remained stagnant at 2015 levels.

"Advocacy for supportive policies and regulatory frameworks is crucial to creating a conducive environment for climate tech adoption and growth in South Asia"

There is no lack of initiative in the South Asian region when it comes to addressing climate change. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have witnessed a growing number of climate tech organisations striving to come up with innovative solutions to everyday life-threatening issues.

Two water-focused climate startups in Pakistan, Aabshar and Boondh e Shams, were founded by individuals with personal experiences of water scarcity and contamination.

While Aabshar provides eco-friendly taps that reduce water consumption, Boondh e Shams focuses on using solar energy to create portable water filtration systems.

Boondh e Shams founder Hamza Farrukh highlights that people only began to understand the water crisis during last year's floods, but the crisis existed even before the floods.

"Now the water crisis is central," Hamza says. Unfortunately, media attention after the floods subsided, and the disconnect between urban cities and rural areas returned to its previous state. 

Once a recreation area for Quetta residents in Balochistan, Hanna lake is now completely dried up after three years of drought in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan [Getty Images]
Once a recreation area for residents of Balochistan, Hanna Lake is now completely dried up after three years of drought in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan [Getty Images]

India faces similar dynamics between its urban and rural populations. Koushik Sur, co-founder of MyPlan8, a carbon usage tracker available on smartphones, divides India into three categories: major metropolitan cities, smaller cities, and rural areas.

"Our primary target is metropolitan areas, but we're using our revenue to directly invest in climate action in rural areas too," Koushik tells The New Arab.

MyPlan8 does not ask for donations; instead, it aims to sell green products on its marketplace to bring all solutions to its platform.

Koushik believes that climate action cannot be a top priority in South Asia until other pressing concerns that impact an individual's quality of life are addressed. MyPlan8 aims to increase the standard of living of individuals so that they can think about climate change.

MyPlan8 believes that in order to make a difference in climate impact, there should be a focus on individual contributions to climate change.

Unfortunately, South Asia struggles with this due to a lack of climate change awareness, along with language and communication barriers that limit collaboration across regions.

Even in Bangladesh, where platforms like iFarmer are attempting to make farming more efficient and sustainable, experts are worried that there is simply not enough innovation where it is needed.

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Aabshar has taken an interesting approach towards its consumers. They have collaborated with Bait-us-Salam mosque, one of the biggest in Lahore, to install their taps and manage to significantly reduce the mosque's water consumption.

This collaboration with a faith-focused community just shows how important collaborations are in making climate action work. With climate tech, where investments and innovation are key, collaborations become even more important.

Ayla Majid, who is the founder and CEO of Planetive Middle East and Planetive Pakistan as well as a decarbonization investor, says that collaboration is the key.

Speaking on climate tech organisations that are already doing the work, she says, "These organisations need to find the right players in their fields and within the areas, they are working. They should look at who else is working in that area, build a network and find their market. There also needs to be cross-sector collaboration between areas like agriculture, climate, and energy."

Collaboration can play a significant role in helping organisations increase their impact, especially in South Asia where both awareness and resources are major barriers to progress.

"Creating awareness is the biggest challenge — making people understand the impact and adapting to sustainability or recycling culture. While this is common for platforms in Western countries, in South Asia, thrifting is still not very common," said Koushik, explaining why Myplan8 is working on both awareness building and providing services and products. 

Climate tech in South Asia should also cater to the existing needs of vulnerable communities. In rural water-scarce areas in Pakistan, tech solutions are scarce, and frequent crises mean a need for fast responses. That's why Farrukh and his team created a portable solution that can be taken wherever it's needed.

"We've created an online, internet-enabled water tracking and maintenance system. So, we know when and where system breaks occur, and we take responsibility for it because we can monitor what is happening," Farrukh said, explaining how the Oasis Box can provide fast relief to water-scarce areas in Pakistan. 

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If climate tech start-ups are to become a mass solution, the industry needs to address the challenges it faces.

"Advocacy for supportive policies and regulatory frameworks is crucial to creating a conducive environment for climate tech adoption and growth in South Asia," said Ali Khursheed, the founder of Aabshar.

Ayla further added, "I see huge opportunities. I think people need to step up, but it's essential to quantify the benefits to everybody, not only profits but also the outcome of that initiative and the impact it will have."

Anmol Irfan is a freelance journalist with bylines in VICE, HUCK, and The Guardian among others. She has experience writing on minority politics, activism, and gender issues. She is also the founder of the Pakistani community platform, Perspectives Magazine

Follow her on Twitter @anmolirfan22