06 October 2010

Flood relief is an SMS away

Pakistan flood victims and relief workers have been using Kenyan software to map the disaster and humanitarian needs via mobile phones, using SMS messages.

SMS is a well established tool for emergency fund raising in developed countries, but a relatively new tool for emergency response by relief agencies.

IRIN reports that 99 million of the 170 million Pakistani people have a mobile phone, compared to land-based communications that reach a limited number of people. That makes it a valuable tool in times of crisis, especially if reception holds up.

The UN praises the system and imagines the benefits if countries were to establish national schemes in advance of natural disasters, enabling mapping of needs and a faster response. With cell towers typically on higher ground and some degree of redundancy built into network systems, mobile phones should be relatively reliable during floods.

Pakistan is using a number of systems including Ushahidi, which was originally developed in Kenya to map ethnic violence (and mentioned on this blog in 2009).

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