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Mobile Phones to Aid Disaster Relief

Tanzania Red Cross Society Uses Mobile Phones to Aid Disaster Relief- BORGEN
Mobile phone technology is sweeping across Africa in the rapid, all-encompassing style of a pandemic. However, mobile phone usage and supporting networks actually offer a solution to treating disease and other disasters.

Using Open Data Kit (ODK), a set of free, open-source tools organizations can use to author, field and manage mobile data collection, the Tanzania Red Cross Society has been able to facilitate data collection through phones.

Red Cross volunteers are able to upload surveys to their mobile phones that they then use to interview beneficiaries of Red Cross relief efforts about the aid they received. After completing each survey, volunteers can remotely upload results to the server. From there, the collected data is analyzed, allowing Red Cross officials to determine the effectiveness of various emergency relief efforts.

Kibari Ramadhan Tawakal, disaster management coordinator at Tanzania Red Cross Society, reports that Volunteers prefer the mobile platform, referencing how easy it is to use in comparison to pen and paper surveys.

“Using the mobile phones is exciting for them, and helps increase their confidence when interviewing beneficiaries. It also enables us to collect more consistent data,” Tawakal said.

It is true that recording and distributing data in the developing world can be a challenge. Without guarantees of a power source or specialized hardware and network access, information is not always current or reliable.

Created by researchers at the University of Washington, ODK was designed to offer an accessible solution to data collection in developing nations.

Cellular service is uniquely reliable even in the developing world. This enables data to be sent and analyzed in real-time. Mobile phones also contain cameras and GPS units, which ease data collection, and are capable of establishing USB and WiFi connections to desktop computers. Smartphone cameras additionally function as a tool for reading barcode information.

With telecom companies investing millions in rural mobile networks, cell phones are accessible even in the most remote areas of countries like Tanzania. The nation’s Communications Regulatory Authority reports that as of 2015 there are approximately 33 million mobile subscribers in the country.

For this reason, ODK software offers an extremely promising solution to data collection challenges. With dependable real-time information about the appropriateness of disaster relief efforts, Red Cross officials will be able to quickly make informed decisions with regards to future aid.

Improved data collection may also feed directly into Red Cross efforts regarding HIV/AIDS. As a part of their project in Tanzania, the organization cites improving knowledge about HIV at a community level and reaching 35,000 people “through community-based educational activities that focus on preventing HIV and reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with this disease.”

Having accurate, region-specific information about HIV/AIDS can only help when it comes to community outreach.

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: IT Web Africa, IFRC, Ars Technica, Open Data Kit
Photo: Flickr