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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

'Beyond School Books' - a podcast series on education in emergencies

Podcast #23: Technology helping schoolchildren in disaster areas

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0190/Shehzad Noorani
On 3 February, a girl looks out from between the tarpaulin sheeting of the tent where she is living, in Nan Charles camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

By Anna Azaryeva

NEW YORK, USA, 17 March 2010 – The earthquake that shook Chile on 27 February reportedly killed hundreds of people and caused widespread damage to homes, hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure.

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The start of the school year has been suspended for a week while rescue and recovery efforts are underway.

Meanwhile, intensive aid operations continue in Haiti, which was struck by a catastrophic earthquake on 12 January. The quake damaged or destroyed thousands of schools, affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren throughout 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. 

UNICEF podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke 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 with 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.

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," said Sree Sreenivasan.

© Ushahidi
Ushahidi maps, in near real time, up-to-date crisis information from inside Haiti via SMS, e-mail, radio, phone, social media and other sources.

The 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 the Ushahidi platform in Haiti is to provide an up-to-date, comprehensive picture of what the situation in Haiti was like, starting from just the few hours after the earthquake itself," explained Patrick Meier. Two hours after the quake, Ushahidi began to receive e-mails, text messages and tweets about the damages caused and the people trapped. It was then able to map this information on an interactive platform.

This technology could also prove to be of great use to schoolchildren 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 new technology, which is more generally 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 community – both locally and worldwide – to empower individuals in the country to have a voice in how their country is rebuilt.

"I think we will see more and more focus now, in the post-disaster stage, on things like education," said 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 their opinions on whether the schools are being built according to the needs of their towns and communities.

Mr. Sreenivasan thinks social media and technology will play an important role not only in fundraising and information sharing, but also in helping to hold governments accountable during the reconstruction process.




Moderator Amy Costello speaks with Director of Crisis Mapping and Strategic Partnerships at Ushahidi, Patrick Meier, and with Sree Sreenivasan, a journalism educator at Columbia University, about the use of technology for crisis mapping in disaster areas.
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