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Global Problems Can be Solved

New Report Examines the Role of Communications Technologies in Humanitarian Crises

Publication outlines the opportunities and challenges of leveraging communications technologies before, during, and after crises

Washington DC and London —   December 10, 2009

The United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation released a landmark publication today, Human Rights Day, on the use of communications technologies in humanitarian crises.  The report, New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks, looks at how governments, humanitarian aid groups and affected communities can benefit from innovative uses of communications technologies at key stages on the timeline of a crisis, from preparedness and alerts to response and rebuilding.

“As the number of emergencies rises around the world, so too does access to new forms of technology that make it easier to for authorities, relief groups and individuals to prepare for and respond to crises,” said Claire Thwaites, head of the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Partnership. “We commissioned this report to advance the discussion of how innovation is reshaping communications during emergencies and how this innovation can be taken to scale.”

The report, written by co-authors Diane Coyle and Patrick Meier, profiles organizations whose work is advancing the frontlines of innovation and offers an overview of international efforts to increase sophistication in the use of communications technologies during emergencies. It concludes with recommendations for how governments, aid groups, and international organizations can leverage this innovation to improve community resilience.

Examples of innovation profiled in the report include:

• Preparedness: The United Nation’s Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System (GIVAS), a new initiative, will leverage technology to provide policy-makers with aggregate data about how global shocks like the financial crisis affect the world’s poorest.

• Alerts: Ushahidi, a free and open source platform combining SMS, Twitter and Google Maps, allows mobile phone users to submit and receive alerts during crisis situations.

• Response: The United Nation’s Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT), which uses satellite imagery to map and monitor population movements and refugee flows, can be used to identify where an international response may be needed.

• Reconstruction: M-PESA, a money-transfer system led by Safaricom, can be used to transfer money to affected families.

The report is the fifth in the Access to Communications publications series produced by the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership, which is dedicated to leveraging the power of communications technologies to strengthen humanitarian work worldwide. 

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Note to the editor:
To promote the report, from December 10-17 we are running a series of guest posts looking at the role of technology in emergencies on the UN Foundation’s UN issues blog, UN Dispatch. Follow conversations about the report on Twitter using the hashtag #Tech4Dev and on the UN Foundation’s Facebook page. Readers can submit questions for the report’s authors via those channels; the Q&A transcript will be published on UN Dispatch on December 17.

About the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Partnership

The United Nations Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership is a leading public-private alliance using technology programs to strengthen the UN’s humanitarian efforts worldwide.  Created in October 2005 with a £10 million commitment from The Vodafone Foundation matched by £5 million from the UN Foundation. The Technology Partnership has three core areas of focus: (1) to strengthen communications in humanitarian emergencies though capacity building and support for disaster response missions that connect disaster relief workers and affected  families; (2) to support the development of mobile health (mHealth) programs that tackle critical public health challenges and improve public health systems, decision-making and, ultimately, patient outcomes; and (3) to promote research and innovation using technology as a tool for international development. The UN Foundation and The Vodafone Foundation are among the founding partners of the mHealth Alliance. More information about the Technology Partnership can be found at: www.unfoundation.org/vodafone.

About the Authors

Diane Coyle runs the consultancy firm Enlightenment Economics. She specializes in competition analysis and the economics of new technologies and globalization, including extensive work on the impacts of mobile telephony in developing countries. Diane also is the author of several books and has published numerous books, reports and articles. She was previously Economics Editor of The Independent and before that worked at the Treasury and in the private sector as an economist. She has a PhD from Harvard and is a visiting professor at the University of Manchester and a January 2009 in winner of the OBE.

Patrick Meier co-directs the Program on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). He is the co-founder of the International Network of Crisis Mappers (CM*Net) and has extensive consulting experience with many international organizations in the field of conflict early warning. Patrick is also a PhD candidate at The Fletcher School where his dissertation research focuses on the role of new media and digital technology in popular resistance against repressive rule. Patrick blogs at iRevolution.net and most recently joined Ushahidi as Director of Crisis Mapping and Strategic Partnerships.

Press contacts:

In Washington:
Ingrid Madden
United Nations Foundation
1 202 887 9040
imadden@unfoundation.org

In London:
Lisa Taylor
Four Communications
vgfunf@fourcommunications.com

 
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