Shot from the sky of CV Santo after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince
Modern technology and its impact on emergency relief work in Haiti.
The response to the recent earthquake in Haiti was remarkable. For the first time, modern technology was a vital and recognized tool for aiding the emergency relief effort and providing news and information regarding the disaster to a worldwide audience. From Twitter, to Facebook, to texting, millions got involved to offer their help to the Haitian people. Crowd sourcing, when willing individuals each take on a small task to aid a large project, is a relatively new development that has come of age with today's social media.
Ushahidi.com, a website that was born out of crowd sourcing in the aftermath of the 2008 Kenyan elections, was quick to set up an operation in Haiti. By texting the number 4636, Haitians in trouble could quickly and effectively get a message out to those who could help. A Haitian clinic, low on generator fuel, texted the number and received a response from the Red Cross within 20 minutes. Volunteers on the other end were able to translate, make sense of, and re-direct the message to those that needed it.
How else was crowd sourcing used after the earthquake? OpenStreetMap, an open source mapping project, was vastly improved by thousands of volunteers through CrisisCommons. The map of Haiti quickly switched from being a bare skeleton of major roads, to an intricate resource that incorporated hospitals and displacement camps, and was used by Ushahidi.com volunteers to pinpoint text messages to within a few meters.
Alongside the work of our charity, crowd sourcing and other technologies will continue to help the relief effort. However, as useful and encouraging as crowd sourcing may be, technology can only go so far. As people generally did not confirm they received help, Ushahidi cannot say exactly how successful they were. What happened to those in Haiti who didn't have access to mobiles? Web-based projects can support organizations, but do not have the expertise to put in the long-term groundwork required to help society recover from a disaster.
SOS Children has a long track record of helping those affected by natural disasters. Working in Haiti since 1978, SOS Children resides in the country, long after internet hysteria died down. Our charity will continue to support the children it cared for before the quake, as well as providing trauma care and temporary family-based alternative care for unaccompanied and separated children. In the long term, SOS Children will provide a loving environment to as many children left orphaned as it can.