Mobile and internet use in crisis-affected countries

Phone-a-friend2Global Humanitarian Assistance Head of Information Services, Lisa Walmsley, has been taking a look at some statistics on the uptake of mobile and Internet services in crisis-affected countries. She has synthesised some of the  research undertaken and shared by people such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)Infoasaid, the CDAC network and BBC Media Action on use and barriers to access, in order to develop an infographic for a UN OCHA publication, which can be read here. Most information on the subject falls into several broad categories: infrastructure deployment and service uptake; crowd-sourcing; service delivery; information exchange; and accountability. In the full briefing, Lisa shares highlights of her findings, basic data sources, themes and reflections. 

Key learnings

  • Internet and mobile technology transform the way that data is generated, transferred, collected, connected and shared – but they also amplify 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 and the fact that people choose to spend such a large share of their income on mobile/Internet services in developing countries shows how much information is valued. [1]
    • 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.

Mobile and Internet stats


You can read the full briefing, which includes mini profiles for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and South Sudan, and Somalia, as well as a reference guide, on the GHA website here. For more information on the topic please contact the GHA helpdesk or email

[1] Robinson L, Wall I, Still Left in the Dark, BBC World Trust.