Social Media in Haiti provides critical information on Haiti's needs
The online community has been rolling out new technologies to help identify needs and target the response on the ground post earthquake in Haiti. Information on missing persons has been shared across global networks and mapping sites are collecting data from sources such as mobile phone messages and social media sites on who needs what help, where. Sanjana Hattotuwa is a special advisor to the ICT for Peace Foundation and runs a wiki collecting critical information updates on the Haiti response. IRIN Radio's Louise Tunbridge asks him if the various platforms have been working together or competing for space:
HATTOTUWA: Yes, there was some duplication of effort in the first few days after the earthquake hit Haiti on the 12th of January. A number of the systems set up duplicated some of the information which regards, as for example, missing relatives and people on the ground. Where they were? What they needed? How one could get access to them? The conditions on the ground; information on the organizations on the ground was again very hard to come by and scattered amongst a number of places on line. However what I want to emphasis is that non duplication and harmonization of this information was centre and forward in all of the technology deployments- and I think Haiti is a turning point in this regard and a very welcome development as well.
TUNBRIDGE: Did you see what is going on high-tech world here is unprecedented. Did you think it is going change forever the way we do respond to disasters?
HATTOTUWA: The way we respond to disasters it will always be the same. It will require sweat. It will require physical effort and it will require political will. These three key ingredients are the backbone of any post disaster relief effort and these will not change even as we move into the future. What I think highly demonstrates quite clearly is that technology is the fourth element. We have seen an unprecedented effort with regards to technology deployment to find out very rapidly after the earthquake what the needs on the ground were, where the most urgent cases of aid were in Port-au-Prince and the rest of the country. As well as technology deployments to generate financial aid for the relief efforts. I think Goggle set up a dedicated page very quickly after the earthquake. Apple allows you to donate through Itunes. And unprecedented sum of money that the American Red Cross - the ICRC have got through mobile donations. I think at last count 10 to 12 million US dollars. This has been unprecedented in relief efforts for disasters of this nature and certainly yes it will change the way the world responds to disasters. Because these are now technologies that as we have seen with Haiti can be extremely quickly deployed and we have seen with platforms like USHAHIDI, SHAHANA, INSTEED that is a global community behind these efforts to shape it to translate the systems into Creole and French, to fine tune the systems to the needs on the ground in Haiti. I think this has been unprecedented in the way they respond to the disasters and certainly sets the parameters of what we can expect in the future after disasters such as this.
TUNBRIDGE: Obviously there is a irony seen this thoroughbred race horse the online technology at work versus the mule on the ground and the grunt work of trying to get food and water through to people and pulling them from the rubble. Is there a disconnect between the two? To you see that the tech nerds are working up there in the world of their own?
HATTOTUWA: The online community - the community that actually develops these technologies platforms and the people on the ground who actually do the physical work of rescuing. I think are inextricably intertwined. No longer is it the case that rescuers can ignore the information provided by this technology platforms. And it is also the case of these technologies platforms at the end of the day disseminate information from victims on the ground as well as eyewitness reports by the aid agencies and NGOs and the UN system on the ground. So there is great cross fertilization. One can not therefore discount the work done by these technology providers in such a short period of time after the earthquake to fashion and deploy these platforms to help people on the ground do their work more efficiently and effectively. I think something that this is something will see in the future as well.
PRES: IRIN Radio's Louise Tunbridge speaking to Sanjana Hattotuwa, ICT specialist on the role of the online community in Haiti.
Producer: Jocelyne Sambira