A food crisis in Somalia has its citizens on the brink of another famine. Waiting on international or government aid is a slow process, so Somalis are turning to each other for support. “Combining 21st-century social media with the age-old clan network, the bedrock of Somali society as well as its safety net,” as Ben Quinn from the Guardian puts it, communities of Somalis around the world are using WhatsApp to sponsor families affected by food insecurity.

Humanitarian organizations like the U.N. have warned that 6.2 million Somalis are on the verge of famine, but foreign aid has been slow coming. Saad Ali Shire, the foreign minister of the Republic of Somaliland, says that Somalia needs immediate aid in the form of life-saving supplies in the next two to three weeks to avoid a declared famine.

Aid organizations are trying to prevent a repeat of the famine that killed 260,000 Somalis between 2010 and 2012. Britain’s Department for International Development gave £100 million to Somalia, but the money only covers a small fraction of the need.

With the response to the food crisis in Somalia lagging, networks around the world are turning to social media to support people in need of life-saving aid. Users of WhatsApp are forming groups and pooling their resources to sponsor Somali families. The groups figure out how much aid they can provide based on the formula that says families can survive on $60 per month.

The group then deposits money into a Dahabshiil bank account. Dahabshiil is an African international funds transfer company that started in 1970. The company was initially set up so that migrants from countries in East Africa could send money back to their family and friends still living there. Dahabshiil now allows groups like the Somali clans to transfer funds during crises in addition to offering banking services to the World Bank, Oxfam, the U.N. and Save the Children.

After WhatsApp groups deposit money into a Dahabshiil account, they nominate a five-person committee to withdraw the money and buy supplies for families — usually powdered milk, rice and water.

The network is growing every day, and members are primarily of the Somali diaspora. Forty-five thousand people in Canada identify their ethnic origin as Somali, and tens of thousands of people in Minnesota are also a part of the Somali network addressing the food crisis in Somalia.

The WhatsApp network is a tremendous start, but some smaller Somali groups are struggling to provide aid of their own resources and are turning to aid agencies for financial support. While prominent humanitarian organizations are doing their best to give aid, the process is slow-moving in a time of urgent need.

How to donate: Ocha, World Vision, MSF, Concern, WFP.

Rachel Cooper

Photo: Flickr

Quality in Dominica
Dominica tourists and residents can rest easy. According to a Nov. 22, 2016, statement from the Dominica Water and Sewerage Company Limited (DOWASCO), the water quality in Dominica follows World Health Organization requirements and is safe to drink.

On November 21, 2016, Dominica was rattled with social media rumors claiming that the water caused illness in two tourists, resulting in one’s death. The viral message, spread through WhatsApp, warned readers to boil water before drinking after an investigation revealed toxins affecting the liver.

The next day, DOWASCO swiftly responded, advising that the water was tested daily, and during the September-November 2016 testing period, the presence of coliform bacteria was at zero or less than one colony forming unit per 100 millimeters. DOWASCO reported that these results were within World Health Organization (WHO) drinking water guidelines. Results in hand, DOWASCO fired back at the rumor, calling them “baseless and slanderous and against the best interest of the public.”

Despite DOWASCO’s assurances, the Dominican government swiftly entered the fray to conduct their own investigation. On November 23, 2016, the Ministry of Health (MoH) held a press conference to address the issue. Chief Medical Officer David Johnson supported DOWASCO’s statement and reiterated that the rumor was without merit and caused unwarranted concern to residents and visitors.

Johnson reported that the MoH actively monitors drinking water quality in Dominica through weekly field tests, biweekly bacteriological analyses and annual sanitary assessments of all the water collection points in Dominica. He stated that the samples are even sent to other labs, like the Caribbean Public Health Agency, for further referral.

Johnson concurred with DOWASCO’s findings regarding the water quality in Dominica and reassured the public that the Ministry of Health had no worries about the quality of the island’s drinking water.

Concerning the rumor that someone died due to water contamination, Johnson stated that the country in which the alleged death occurred must investigate and report the issue to the WHO. He advised that if the death is determined to be a result of drinking water quality originating from a foreign visit, Dominica would receive a report.

Johnson indicated that the MoH was very concerned and was actively collaborating with the WHO to get to the source of the rumor.

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr

Refugee NonprofitsWhile forced migration is a constant problem, advances in technology have changed the playing field, and aid organizations are struggling to keep up.

Today, refugees are using their smartphones for both practical uses and methods of comfort in a difficult situation. For efficient aid distribution, change in refugee behavior must be accompanied by a corresponding change in nongovernment organization (NGO) structure.

“Our phones and power banks are more important for our journey than anything, even more important than food,” a refugee from Syria, Wael, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.

When Hassan, a 28-year-old teacher fleeing the Syrian civil war, found out his rubber dinghy was sinking in the middle of the Aegean Sea, he used WhatsApp to alert his friend in New York of his location. He was found by the Turkish Coast Guard 45 minutes later.

Hala, a refugee from Aleppo, uses her phone as the only means of contact left between her and her husband, who was kidnapped by ISIS prior to her departure.

“That’s why I’m always holding it. I’m holding on to it like I’m holding on to an address of my own, my family. This metal device has become my whole world,” said Hala to a Channel 4 film documentary crew.

Smartphones have become such vital tools that it is now standard practice for NGOs to distribute chargers in refugee camps.

Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Google Maps – they’re commonplace applications that have helped refugees quickly navigate their way to safety. Perhaps even a bit too quickly.

“You see their [NGOs] logos, but you don’t see them,” said Hassan.

International aid workers have struggled to keep up with the pace of migrants, often ditching the practice of establishing camps in favor of delivering aid to wherever refugees might happen to be.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) changed their policies in 2014, funding hackathons across Europe so app developers throughout Europe could create new tech-centric solutions to their problem.

These hackathons proved themselves instantly effective. Instead of relying on static means of distribution, new projects like Germany’s Refugees Welcome and Comme à la Maison (CALM) created a channel for refugees to find necessary contacts to help them wherever they may be.

In the future, huge aid organizations should back the winners of hackathons like Techfugees, which generates a variety of smaller startups that are more intuitive and problem-specific.

Regina Park

Photo: Flickr