By Anna Azaryeva
NEW YORK, USA, 11 March 2010 – The earthquake that shook Chile on 27 February reportedly killed hundreds of people causing widespread damage to homes, hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure.
Rescue and recovery efforts are underway while the start of the school year has been suspended for a week.
Meanwhile, intensive aid operations continue in Haiti, which was struck by a catastrophic earthquake just weeks before. The quake affected an estimate of 5,000 schools and approximately 700,000 of primary school-aged children around the country.
While the international community is working relentlessly to alleviate the suffering in both countries, some quake survivors in Haiti and Chile have been harnessing the power of technology to seek assistance for themselves and their communities.
Podcast moderator Amy Costello speaks with Patrick Meier, the Director of Crisis Mapping and Strategic Partnerships at Ushahidi and a Co-Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Program on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning and Sree Sreenivasan, a journalism educator at Columbia University and a tech reporter for DNAinfo.com about the use of technology for crisis mapping in disaster areas.
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Technology helps target the relief
“Ever since the Tsunami in 2004, we saw what the web or real time internet could do to play the major role in relief and information,” says Sree Sreenivasan.
An online mapping tool Ushahidi, first developed in Kenya, has enabled Haitians, and now Chileans, to use cell phones, e-mail or even Twitter to communicate with aid workers trying to reach them.
“What we’ve done with Ushahidi platform in Haiti is to provide up-to-date, comprehensive picture of what the situation in Haiti was like starting from just the few hours after the earthquake itself,” says Patrick Meier. Two hours after the quake Ushahidi began to receive e-mails, text messages and tweets about damages and people trapped and map this information on an interactive platform.
This technology could prove promising for school children in disaster areas. In Haiti, the site was used to report a missing person who was buried beneath the rubble of a university. In future disasters, at-risk children, teachers and professors might be more easily found and assisted by aid workers utilizing this technology, known as crisis mapping.
A voice in rebuilding the country
As reconstruction and development efforts begin in Haiti, the Ushahidi platform will collaborate with the Haitian diaspora to empower individuals in the country to have a voice in how their country is being rebuilt.
“I think we will see more and more focus now in the post-disaster stage on things like education,” says Mr. Meier, “especially in the development stage when the new schools are built.” Individuals in Haiti will be able to use the platform to express whether the schools are built based on the needs of their towns and communities.
Mr. Sreenivasan thinks social media and technology will play an important role not only in fundraising and sharing information on what works or not in reconstruction, but will also help hold governments accountable during this process.
Patrick Meier is a Director of Crisis Mapping and Strategic Partnerships at Ushahidi. He’s also Co-Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Program on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning and a co-founder of the International Network of Crisis Mappers and the International Conference on Crisis Mapping.
Sree Sreenivasan is a journalism educator at Columbia University who works to help journalists and consumers use technology in smarter ways. He’s a tech reporter for DNAinfo.com and a co-founder of the South Asian Journalists Association.