Affordability, availability, literacy, gender, age, status, cultural preference, political environment and the media/IT/telecoms infrastructure are just some of the dynamics at play in the uptake, choice and use of new technology. Given that these vary so much by context and area, it is hard to draw hard and fast conclusions about the role of new communications technology in humanitarian crises.
Here are some findings, basic data sources, themes and reflections from research carried out in collaboration with UN OCHA for its forthcoming publication on communication and technology in humanitarian assistance.
- Internet and mobile technology transforms the way that data is generated, transferred, collected, connected and shared – and it also amplifies traditional ways of consuming and communicating information, sometimes at a lower cost.
- People may listen to the radio on a mobile device or stay in touch with friends using a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, such as Skype, instead of a more expensive/non-existent fixed phone line.
- People may use new devices to create and share content – for example, taking a picture on a mobile device, sharing it via SMS/MMS/social media.
- Crucially, people are able to connect with each other more quickly and easily than ever before. In humanitarian crises, we know that affected communities turn to people they know for assistance first: be they local, in neighbouring countries or part of a wider diaspora – technology facilitates this.
- This is changing, has changed and has the potential to change the balance of power, participation and accountability within the humanitarian system.
- Affordability (including that of associated costs such as electricity) can be a barrier to the deployment, adoption and use of technologies – but prices are coming down (ITU) and the fact that people choose to spend such a large share of their income on mobile/Internet services in developing countries (ITU) shows how much information is valued.
- In some instances, newer technologies can make traditional methods of communication cheaper (e.g. using VoIP services such as Skype rather than fixed telephone lines).
- As costs of mobile and Internet services fall and coverage increases, all the signs are that usage will increase rapidly in rural areas and among poorer people.
- Mobile and Internet information and communications technology (ICT) can be used as a way of delivering services such as health and education – but in some areas this is severely constrained by a lack of fast broadband connections.
Selection of latest Internet and mobile stats
Here are a few stats, which you can access, together with the mini country profiles that are displayed below, here.
- Afghanistan is the 6th largest recipient of humanitarian aid (2006-2010). In addition to overcoming three decades of conflict, the country is periodically subject to natural disasters including earthquakes and drought.
- There are 54.26 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 habitants. As well as telephony services, mobile has facilitated service development and information provision:
- – launched by Roshan, Afghanistan’s largest mobile telecoms operator in 2008, M-Paisais a mobile money service that allows subscribers to transfer cash to other mobile phone owners: person-to-person money transfer; disbursement and repayment of microfinance loans; airtime purchases; bill payments; disbursement and receipt of salaries; receipt of remittances. It uses SMS and Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
- – an SMS messaging service was set up to deliver market price information to farmers in Parwan province – funded by USAID, implemented by Mercy Corps and Roshan.
- Challenged by lack of infrastructure and an unreliable electricity supply, the use of radio, TV and telecoms has been growing since 2001.
- In 2007, work started on building a 3,200km fibre optic cable, which is extending the availability of high speed, lower cost Internet access.
Source: 1. Mobile cellular subscriptions, 2011, ITU. 2. Afghanistan Media Landscape Guide, Infoasaid, March 2011. 3. AFP, Google News 4. The Media of Afghanistan: The Challenges of Transition,BBC Media Trust
- Pakistan is the 2nd largest recipient of humanitarian aid (2006-2010). It is prone to large-scale natural disasters and suffers from poverty, political instability and conflict. 64% of its population is rural. 36% of the population lives on less than US$1.25 a day.
- There has been investment in telecoms infrastructure and there are now 61.61 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. The planned introduction of 3G mobile telephone services in late 2012 should make much faster Internet speeds available from mobile connections.
- In spite of low literacy levels, SMS is popular – in 2011 each handset owner sent an average of 140 SMS messages per month. Radio is also popular. This combination is encouraging the development of interactive radio programming.
- The floods of 2010 had a serious impact on Pakistan’s telecoms infrastructure. Just over 10% of the country’s 30,000 mobile phone base stations were damaged, although most were repaired very rapidly.
- The government set up a shortcode SMS Service to help raise money for flood victims from members of the public. Sending the word ‘Fund’ to 1234 resulted in a 10 rupee (12 US cent) donation to the Prime Minister’s Flood Relief Fund.
- In March 2012 the government announced plans to create a URL filtering and blocking system – at a cost of US$10 million.
Source: 1. Mobile cellular subscriptions, 2011, ITU. 2. Pakistan Media Landscape Guide, March 2011 3. SMS Engagement in Pakistan: A practical guide for civil society, the humanitarian sector and government, June 2011, Jim Linton Williams and Alex Gilchrist, Popular Engagement Policy Lab 5. Using Frontline SMS for complaints and response mechanism in the aftermath of the Pakistan floods, Frontline SMS, March 2012 6. SMS traffic report, 2010, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)
- The 8th largest recipient of humanitarian aid (2006-2010), Somalia has been immersed in an acute political and security crisis since 1991. It had the largest UN Consolidated Appeal in 2012.
- There are 6.85 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 habitants though many more are thought to have access to phones, especially in urban areas:
- – most communication takes the form of voice calls
- – SMS is used by money transfer services to alert recipients that a remittance is ready to collect
- Internet use is growing but still limited to male, urban population
- Radio is a dominant media – there are thought to be well over 30 local stations, though actual numbers fluctuate due to suspension and fighting.
- Somalia has large diaspora communities in neighbouring East African countries, Arab States and United States – Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) facilitates cheaper international voice calls than conventional phone lines.
- In late 2011, it was a mobile signal from Somalia that made mobile communications possible from the Dolo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia.
Source: 1. Mobile cellular subscriptions, 2011, ITU. 2. Somalia Media Landscape Guide, March 2011, Infoasaid 3. Google News
4. An Analysis of the Somali Media Environment, BBC World Service Trust, July 2011
Sudan and South Sudan
- In the five years preceding the secession of South Sudan (2006-2010), Sudan was the largest recipient of humanitarian aid. Both countries face huge challenges. Outside main population areas, basic service provision is limited, literacy is low, infant mortality and malnutrition rates are high and life expectancy is short. Insecurity continues to affect both Sudan and South Sudan and large numbers of people are displaced.
- There are 56.25 mobile-cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants – likely to be lower in South Sudan, especially outside Juba.
- Radio is popular and effective – in South Sudan, surveys have put daily radio listenership figures at between 74% and 93%.
- Under 20% of South Sudan’s population is thought to make regular use of television, newspapers and Internet – access to which is limited outside of Juba.
- In spite of low literacy levels, there has been some use of SMS for information campaigns:
- – UNICEF has used SMS to alert people about vaccination programmes
- – the Ministry of Health sent hygiene messages to people in Juba by SMS (in English, though local networks are also able to handle Arabic script).
Sources of information
BBC World Trust
- Afghanistan: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediaaction/policybriefing/bbc_media_action_afghanistan_is_in_transition.pdf, March 2012
- Somalia: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/mediaaction/pdf/AnAnalysisOfTheSomaliMediaEnvironment.pdf, July 2011
- Robinson, L. & Wall, I., Still left in the Dark: http://www.cdacnetwork.org/public/resource/policy-briefing-still-left-dark, BBC WorldTrust, March 2012
- Pakistan: http://www.cdacnetwork.org/public/resource/frontlinesms-using-frontlinesms-complaints-and-response-mechanism-aftermath-pakistan-floods, Frontline SMS, March 2012
- Disaster 2.0 Report, researched and written by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. The report was commissioned by the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership in collaboration with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
- A useful source of policy-relevant materials, including media and telecoms landscape guides for six of the top ten humanitarian aid recipient countries – all but Indonesia, DRC, Iraq and Palestine:http://infoasaid.org/media-and-telecoms-landscape-guides