Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Tag: disaster

Nairobi Hackers Descend Upon the iHub

I’m sitting at the iHub this morning, after just having given my welcome to the 40+ Nairobian hackers who have descended upon the place. They’re here to take part in the global Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) hackathon to develop tech solutions to pressing needs in crisis and disaster response.

It should come as no surprise that Nairobi’s technorati are well-versed in mobile solutions, that’s quickly becoming a competitive advantage in this city. So far we have groups coming up with solutions for amputee registration via SMS and USSD, An SMS solution to create distress texts, improvements to people finder apps and tracking of mobile payments.

Keep up to speed

This event goes through Sunday afternoon, it’s a full 36 hour hackathon. Watch as the devs in Kenya work with their counterparts in Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, the US and UK. Keep an eye out on the above resources to see what comes out of Africa!

RHoK Nairobi, Kenya

Working on Ushahidi’s Haiti Response

Last Wednesday started out pretty normal for me. Then it stopped. The US-based members of the Ushahidi team informed me of the earthquake in Haiti, and then the madness began… 6 days later, what’s happened?

Ushahidi is heavily involved in mapping and integrating crowdsourced information from Haiti into an aggregated map that is being used by both people on the ground who need help and those who can provide relief. Teams of volunteers in Kenya, Uganda and the US have been working to solidify the platform and make this effort work. Keep up-to-date in our Situation Room and our blog.

Though it’s not a completely accurate description of what we’re doing, it’s close: We’re running what’s basically the 911 system for Haiti through a local shortcode on the Digicel network 4636. More on the 4636 number and campaign.

How you can help

Pass this message on, try to get it to people, media and organizations IN Haiti:

“In Haiti? Text 4636 (International:447624802524) on Digicel with your location and need. Report emergencies and missing persons.”

Help with open mapping of Haiti campaign through OpenStreetMap, CrisisMapping Network and CrisisCommons via the “Drawing Together” campaign.

Other links you should know about

Missing persons index
In-Haiti relief organization registry
Twitter Tracker/Filter
Crowdsourced facial recognition
OpenStreetMap Haiti
Crisis Commons Haiti
ICT4Peace – useful links wiki

It turns out this little experiment that started two years ago to crowdsource information from the public in Kenya during the post-election violence might have a future after all… 🙂

Thanks for your support, and for your help.

Mobile Phones in Crisis & Disaster Situations

This morning I had the honor of putting on a workshop at MobileActive ’08 with Robert Kirkpatrick, of InSTEDD, and Christopher Fabian, of UNICEF. Both of them are doing some amazing work in the field of disaster and crisis response, using all different types of technology, but specifically what people carry in their pockets all over the world: the mobile phone.

InSTEDD, UNICEF and Ushahidi at MobileActive '08

InSTEDD has a number of ongoing projects, generally thinking about ways to use technology to help organizations collaborate better in some of the harshest disaster environments in the world. You’ll find their tech guys everywhere, from Cambodia to hurricane Ike. Their Mesh4x and SMS GeoChat technology is incredibly important, and I foresee it being used in many applications in the future.

the UNICEF BeeUNICEF has two interesting skunkworks-like projects (among many more) that they talked about today. The Bee, which allows communication, connectivity and data access in field conditions where such technologies are often difficult or impossible to use (video of the old version of the Bee). Christopher also talked about RapidSMS, an SMS and voice data gathering tool that is currently being used in Northern Uganda.

Takeaways: Free, Open Source, Customizable

It was interesting to hear each of us talk about our projects and how we each have an immense amount of respect for what each of the other groups is doing. Ushahidi’s focus is on gathering distributed data from civilians for visualization, InSTEDD is focused on collaboration, and UNICEF is trying to figure out how that works within groups and communities.

One consistent message is this: every crisis situation differs, so we need to build tools that are open and free for anyone to access. It’s a little like all of us creating different Lego pieces that go into the Lego box for everyone else to use.

Ushahidi needs to figure out how to incorporate both RapidSMS and SMS GeoChat. UNICEF’s Bee needs to get Mesh4x embedded in their device – which has both open source hardware and software. There are other tools, like Sahana, that we need to learn how to incorporate into our systems as well – or at the least make possible to interface between when people need that specific mix of tools in their particular situation.

Lastly, but probably most importantly, we all see that developing within the context of the areas of the world where these disaster or crisis situations are happening is vital. UNICEF has developers in a couple different African countries. InSTEDD’s devs are training local devs in all of the countries that they go to. Ushahidi has 85% of our dev team in Africa. It’s a trend, and a good one – making sure that the people build the tools using the devices and limitations in which they will be used.

Look for big things stemming from this meet up soon.

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