Mobiles for humanitarian action?

Posted on October 26, 2007  /  0 Comments

Our friend and colleague from TVEAP, Nalaka Gunawardene, writes from Geneva:

Message to aid workers: Go mobile — or get lost! « Moving Images, Moving People!

It might be that aid workers are all frustrated computer geeks…because all their talk was about collaborative and networking software, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the use of really high resolution (read: oh-so-sexy) satellite imagery, and the latest analytical tools — all requiring high levels of skill and personal computers with loads of processing power.

But no mobile phones! This was too much to let pass, so I raised the question: did you guys even consider this near ubiquitous, mass scale technology and its applications in crisis and disaster situations? And how do you engage the digitally empowered, better informed disaster survivors and crisis-affected communities?

I also recalled the example of Aceh tsunami survivors keeping each other informed about the latest arrivals of relief supplies – all through their mobile phones (as cited by the head of MERCY Malaysia on the previous day).

It turned out that they did discuss mobiles — well, sort of. Amidst all the gee-whiz talk about high tech gadgets, I received a short answer: widespread as mobile phones now are, ‘these systems are not fully integrated or compatible with other information platforms’ — whatever that means! The group’s spokespersons also pointed out that since mobile services are all operated by commercial (telecom) service providers, using their networks involves lots of ‘negotiations’. (I would have thought it’s the same with those who operate earth-watching or communications satellites.)

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