Communication is Aid: Technology, Media & Humanitarian Collaboration

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 10 Dec 2012

In October, the iHub here in Kenya published a piece of research which found that the poorest of the poor in eastern Africa valued their mobile phones so much that they would go without food and other essentials, just so that they could have enough credit to make calls.

In emergency after emergency, we have seen communities go to extreme lengths to get information.
In Haiti, people would pay half of their day’s salary to charge their phones following the earthquake.
And more recently in New York, colleagues found themselves walking 20 blocks just to get phone reception.

Time and time again, communities demonstrate both their need for information and their need to be heard. We have organized this meeting to better understand the technology and media landscape in the region and engage with the sector to see what tool and initiatives we use to fulfill the demand for information as a humanitarian priority in crises.

For development agencies who work with communities before and after crises, or in more stable contexts, improving channels of communication is also a priority. We are pleased to be partnering with Adeso, our co-organisers on this event, who are working at the grassroots level of communities to build the resilience of people to deal with future shocks.

We are grateful to BBC Media Action for their financial sponsorship of this event. For over a decade,
BBC Media Action has been addressing the information and communication needs of people affected by crisis by working with local and national media professionals, civil society and humanitarian agencies.

We are fortunate in Nairobi to have a strong development sector, and an emerging communications for development sector. Part of the challenge for us, as humanitarians, lies in bringing this expertise into a crisis context, and using this learning to help us deliver effective communications even in the middle of a complex emergency.

We are also fortunate to have one the most dynamic technological sectors in the world here in Kenya, with developers and innovators creating technological solutions to development and humanitarian challenges. This is the home of the mapping platform, Ushahidi, and the centre of excellence iHub.
We also now also have organisations such as Frontline SMS and the Praekelt Foundation moving here.

East Africa has a rapidly growing telecoms industry, and Kaburo Kobia from the Kenyan ICT board will talk more about how they are committed to increase access to information communication technology for the poorest and geographically marginalized Kenyans.

Communication technology is reshaping the world we live in. As mobile phone use grows exponentially throughout Africa, there is growing recognition in the humanitarian sector that information is a form of humanitarian assistance, and that communications needs to be understood as a form of aid. OCHA is proud to be a founding member of the CDAC Network, represented here today, and to have supported the growth of this sector.

Drafted by Imogen Wall, Communications with Communities Coordinator, UNOCHA

Delivered by Gabriella Waaijman, Deputy Head of OCHA Eastern Africa in Nairobi on 6th December 2012

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