Mobile Technology in Emergencies

from Save the Children, Vodafone Foundation
Published on 31 Dec 2012 View Original

Efficient cash transfer mechanisms and effective two-way communication with disaster-affected communities using mobile phone technology


Children across the world are affected by humanitarian emergencies and there is urgent need for innovative approaches to tackling such crises more effectively. Mobile phones are increasingly accessible to those affected by crisis and can play a strategic role in the delivery of rapid, cost-effective, scalable humanitarian assistance. However, the full potential of mobile phones to work as transformative tools in emergency response has not yet been realised.

This research identifies three key themes that should be addressed in order to change this situation: increasing accountability, building preparedness and prioritising collaboration. Making progress with each of these issues is dependent on a shared commitment from INGOs, MNOs and governments.

To realise the potential of mobile phones in emergency response, three strategic issues must be addressed:

Increase accountability:Ensuring accountability to beneficiaries is an ongoing challenge in emergency response environments, because it is costly and timeconsuming to facilitate two-way communications. The most vulnerable are often excluded and there is the risk that increased use of mobile technology could exacerbate this trend. However, when used effectively, there are powerful ways in which the use of mobile phones can facilitate the flow of information and empower new voices, including the most marginalised, to participate and inform the humanitarian response. Mobile phones can be used as tools for conducting needs assessments, facilitating rapid mass communication, and improving transparency through feedback and complaints mechanisms.

Build preparedness: There is a widespread lack of awareness regarding how mobile phones can be used in emergency response. The main reasons for this are a lack of training for humanitarian staff, a lack of preparedness and the limited opportunity to innovate in the high-pressure environment of an unfolding emergency. There is significant opportunity for coordinated training, building organisational capacity and equipping staff in advance of an emergency so that they are confident and competent to realise the benefits of mobile technology.

Prioritise collaboration: The use of mobiles in emergency response is hampered by a lack of collaboration and knowledge-sharing between humanitarian agencies, MNOs and governments.
There has been a lack of understanding regarding the strengths that each sector offers, leading to a lack of coordination and ineffective responses. Realising the potential of mobile phones in emergencies is dependent upon determined collaboration between all stakeholders, investing time and resources in building partnership and shared understanding before an emergency. This enables efficient and coordinated responses that utilise the strengths of each sector and facilitate integrated solutions.