Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Humanitarian Relief and Mobile Phones

The Economist last week published an article titled “Flood, famine and mobile phones“with this lead-in:

“MY NAME is Mohammed Sokor, writing to you from Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab. Dear Sir, there is an alarming issue here. People are given too few kilograms of food. You must help.

“A crumpled note, delivered to a passing rock star-turned-philanthropist? No, Mr Sokor is a much sharper communicator than that. He texted this appeal from his own mobile phone to the mobiles of two United Nations officials, in London and Nairobi. He got the numbers by surfing at an internet café at the north Kenyan camp.”

The article touches on the benefits that modern technology can bring to humanitarian relief, citing examples as diverse as the UN’s ReliefWeb portal, Mukuru.com (an SMS-based voucher system for connecting the Zimbabwean diaspora community with relatives back home), and Sri Lanka’s tsunami “early-warning system which would send SMS messages to every mobile phone in an area at risk of flooding”.

The most interesting portion of the article for me was about the potential drawbacks of the technology:

“Oisin Walton of Télécoms sans Frontières has a different worry: e-mail may supplant aid workers’ conflict-avoidance skills; they may come to rely too much on e-mailed security warnings, and not enough on their instincts. And the Red Cross’s Florian Westphal fears satellite or mobile phones will make warlords even more suspicious of aid workers;
it is now harder to eavesdrop than it was when aid workers used open radio frequencies.”

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Written by Jaspal

August 1, 2007 at 8:24 am

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