On the Saving Edge: New Tech in Disaster Zones

mHealth for DevelopmentA new report by the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation has found the intersection between two incredible trends — the significant uptick in disasters worldwide, both man-made and natural, and the brilliance of those harnessing the ubiquity and versatility of mobile technology to find new ways to help those hit by disaster.

That’s right; don’t adjust your television sets. Reporting of disasters is not on the rise, actual disasters are.  Almost as many natural disasters occurred in the last five years as did in the previous decade, driven in large part by our changing climate.  Civil war is on the rise in the developing world. And terrorist attacks increased from 1,100 a year in 2000 to 3,000 in 2005. Needless to say, these emergencies occur, disproportionately, in the world’s poorest nations, where warning and response systems are less able to deal with the devastation.

However, there are those who are stepping up to the plate to meet this challenge, many of whom are tapping into the power and versatility of the cell phone, the world’s most ubiquitous communications device. Mobile technology continues to carry the torch of the tech and communications revolution of the past 20 years.  This report highlights some incredible things that are being done with that technology in disaster zones — from a mobile-based flood and cyclone warning system in Bangladesh to a child-monitored food distribution program in Zimbabwe.

If you, like I, know little about the astounding complexity and hardship inherit in preparing for and responding to disasters that wipe out even the most basic infrastructure, stay tuned here over the next week. We are running a series of guest posts from organizations that do — like Ushahidi, operating in the post-election violence in Kenyan; UNOSAT, analyzing the civilian impact of the Sri Lankan military attack on the Tamil Tigers, and Souktel, connecting young people to jobs and aid in the West Bank, Gaza, Somaliland, and Iraq. The report authors have also kindly agreed to take questions, which we will compile from Twitter (#Tech4Dev) and Facebook and publish on Thursday, December 17.