Drone Pilots, AI, Tweets and Texts Speed Up Relief Efforts in Nepal
Thursday, May 7, 2015
They are known as digital humanitarians: the thousands of tech-savvy volunteers from around the world who are both physically and virtually converging on the crisis in Nepal and digging through mountains of data to help humanitarian agencies direct their aid.
If the April 25 earthquake that struck Nepal and killed more than 6,000 people had happened five years ago, the emergency response would have been very different. At that time, one of the biggest hurdles humanitarian agencies faced was a lack of information. When disaster struck, they didn’t know for days and weeks who had been affected, how many, how badly or where.
Leveraging Text Messages
Now, thousands of people in Nepal have mobile phones and have used Twitter and other social media to send out millions of messages and pictures of destroyed houses, and themselves. Humanitarian agencies have learned how to leverage that information.
Chris Fabian, who co-leads the innovation unit at UNICEF, says his agency is about to launch in Nepal a mobile phone text message system called U-report.
“U-report is a system that uses basic text messages and allows us to have conversations with kids who might not have access to the Internet, or even full time electricity, but who do have access to a basic mobile phone,” Fabian said from his office in Geneva.
That system, which UNICEF first used in Liberia in response to the Ebola crisis, now has 700,000 users around the world in 13 countries.