By Emeka Aginam
A new report from Developing Telecoms backed by the United Nations Children’s Fund , UNICEF, the United States Agency for International Development, USAID and Mobile Phones Association, GSMA, released yesterday has revealed how mobile phones transform emergency response in developing countries by unlocking untapped reserves of local knowledge, resourcefulness and creativity.
The report showed how “connected citizens” become active partners in recovery and reconstruction rather than passive recipients of overseas aid.
Accordingly, the report uses examples from recent crises in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq, Nepal, the Philippines and West Africa to show how mobile network coverage enables those directly impacted to collaborate in order to help themselves and others more quickly and effectively than external aid agencies.
The overall effect, according to the study was to speed up response, improve aid delivery and reduce both the short and long term impact of disasters.
“Maintaining mobile network coverage enables connected citizens to become active partners in recovery and reconstruction, rather than passive recipients of aid.
“Mobile phone use in developing countries is growing fast. Better network coverage and falling handset prices mean most people in developing countries have access to a mobile phone, even if they don’t own one.
“Internet-enabled smartphones are becoming widespread – the cheapest Android smartphones are now below US$80 in many parts of Africa and Asia – and cheap pay-as-you-go voice and data access is the norm. Thanks to mobile phone networks internet coverage which now extends beyond the main urban centres for the first time”, the report added.
During crises such as natural disasters and conflicts, connected citizens in developing countries, the report further revealed were finding new solutions to traditional challenges.
Firsthand experience of these events, the report added provided a greater understanding of the immediate needs.
“The ability to access information and communicate with those affected provides connected citizens with a much better understanding of scope and extent of disasters.
“This allows them to find and implement solutions much more quickly than external aid agencies have previously been able to.
“The report details several examples of this new trend. In Iraq, mobile network operators collaborated to set up a single short code SMS hotline to feed information back to a dedicated call centre about the needs of displaced persons in response to user requests” , the report explained.
Similarly, during the Nepalese earthquake, mobile operator Ooredoo, according to the study reacted to user needs by setting up a satellite link to reconnect families using a mobile phone internet connection.