Communication technology serves as a rare bright spot in Haitian recovery, CCLP research trip finds
The Republic of Haiti continues to struggle in its recovery efforts following the devastating January 2010 earthquake, but information and communication technologies are among the few infrastructure bright spots in the country, based on the observations from a recent fact-finding trip, in which the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP) participated.
CCLP Research Director Mark Latonero, who was selected for the week-long research project because of his work in communication technology and emergency management, found that cell phones and text messages were critical tools for sharing information about recovery efforts in the earthquake ravaged country.
“Port-au-Prince still lacks basic infrastructure like running water, electricity, or permanent housing,” explained Latonero. “But, mobile phones are up and running.”
It may seem counter-intuitive or technically challenging, but Haiti, a country which derives its electrical power mostly from a limited supply of generators, has a network of cell phone users. Solar powered recharging stations and pay-as-you-go mobile phone plans allow Haitians to make phone calls and send text messages with relative ease.
“Digicel, the largest company in Haiti, is contributing needed resources not only for the country’s mobile services, but for physical reconstruction of schools and the central market,” wrote Latonero in a preliminary report of his trip findings. “Local communities, NGOs, and international relief agencies in Port au Prince are using mobile phones to alert the dispersed population about public health emergencies and protect against human trafficking and sexual gender based violence.”
The four-person research trip organized by the New York Institute of Technology was designed to study firsthand the participatory rebuilding initiatives in Haiti that utilize innovative information and communication technologies. The team met the CEO of Digicel Haiti and representatives from numerous relief organizations, including the International Organization for Migration, Architects for Humanity, and Digital Democracy, who use mobile phones to monitor gender based violence in camps and shelters in Port-au-Prince.
(left to right) Tobias Holler, Maaren Boute (CEO Digicel Haiti), Cynthia Barton, Nader Vossoughian, and Mark Latonero
In addition to mobile communication, the International Organization for Migration runs the United Nations relief camps and provides the displaces persons with a newspaper service, interactive kiosks, and and dramatic, educational radio programming to spread public health and safety information.
“Our team will reflect on our experiences and look into ways to help,” Latonero explained. “One need is to provide Haitian builders with information on seismic housing construction.”
Latonero’s case study of mobile phone usage in post-earthquake Haiti is only the latest in the Center’s ongoing research into technology and social change. In August, Latonero led a research project in the Mekong Sub Region on the broader use of information technology in combating human trafficking.
(From the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership blog http://communicationleadership.usc.edu/blog/communication_technology_rare_bright_spot_in_haitian_recovery_cclp_research_trip_finds.html)
From mobile active’s Melissa Ulbricht:
“Since the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January, thousands of internally displaced persons are living in camps, where it is often not easy to report incidences of violence. An ongoing project from Survivors Connect uses mobile phones to support camp managers and community leaders to protect women and encourage people to report incidences. The project, called Ayiti SMS SOS — Ayiti comes from the Creole word for Haiti — allows individuals to submit reports via SMS.
Survivors Connect is an organization that works to enhance anti-trafficking movements around the world through the use of new media and connective technology. Survivors Connect partners with grassroots organizations to incorporate new technology to help improve on-the-ground efforts toward protection, prosecution, and prevention.”
Led and founded by Patrick Meir and Jen Ziemke, the crisis mappers network is “leveraging mobile platforms, computational linguistics, geospatial technologies, and visual analytics to power effective early warning for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies.
The International Network of Crisis Mappers (CM*Net) was launched by 100 Crisis Mappers at the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009) in October 2009. As the world’s premier crisis mapping hub, CM*Net catalyzes communication and collaboration between and among crisis mappers with the purpose of advancing the study and application of crisis mapping worldwide.”
The 2010 conference of crisis mappers is held in Boston in October 1-3.
InSTEDD integrates social and technological processes and applications for humanitarian relief, crisis, disaster response, and disease detection. “InSTEDD’s mission is to harness the power of technology to improve collaboration for global health and humanitarian action.” After listening to InSTEDD chief engineer Eduardo Jezierski‘s keynote at The Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) conference in May 2010, I later met Luke Beckman who runs the response operations in Washington D.C.
These experts are part of an innovative team developing open source solutions to respond to complex humanitarian issues. InSTEDD runs their iLab in Cambodia that both develops technologies and educates users in the Mekong Delta and South East Asian region. There could be a preparedness strategy here - educate communities on technological practices and usage before a crisis such that afterwards the response processes are already in place. See an overview of InSTEDD’s tools and technologies.
You need to know about Ushahidi – they are currently among the most important groups applying ICT in the human rights/humanitarian arena. “The Ushahidi Platform allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. Our goal is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.”
Ushahidi was used in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake to receive text messages from those in need, create web-based visualization maps showing where those messages originated from, and filter those messages for the appropriate NGOs.
“Ushahidi is a free and open source project with developers hailing from Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Malawi, Netherlands and the USA working on it.”
Ushahidi means “testimony” in Swahili. See http://www.ushahidi.com/