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Mobile phones in development and disaster management

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Mobile phones (or cellphones) play important roles in development, whether through non-profit programs or commercially supplied services.

The value of information[edit]

The key value of mobile phones, and the reason that so many people own them, is for communication and access to information. While this begins with calling and texting people in one's own network, many enhancements exist (e.g. microblog-style services) including some specifically for development and crisis contexts (such as Ushahidi).

Information is essential to survival, welfare and to international development - for example, finding out how to treat an illness, or finding out what price to ask for cash crops. Communication is also key to maintaining relationships (e.g. with relatives working outside the village). In some cases, access to a mobile phone and instant communication with people outside one's own village is the most effective way to access information.

Education[edit]

  • Bangladeshis can now (2009) learn English by mobile phone, and 300,000 people signed up before the actual launch of the BBC service. Users spend a few cents for each lesson, consisting of a 3 minute call.[1]

Commerce and aid distribution[edit]

Nick Kristof describes[2] distribution of aid via cell phones in Haiti, without using cash. Payments can be made to shop owners, from cell phone to cell phone. This avoids many logistics nightmares, and allows local businesses to participate (doing work that might normally done by aid organizaions) and receive a boost rather than suffer from aid programs.please expand

Program monitoring[edit]

Really Simple Reporting (RSR) allows monitoring of development projects via SMS.

Even with no new technology or protocols, creating reporting channels could make a large impact on the accountability and effectiveness of programs paid for by governments and donors:

With some 80 percent of Africans having access to a cell phone, it is not difficult to have parents (or the students themselves) send an SMS message if the teacher is not in school, or there are no drugs in the clinic or the purported road maintenance program is not happening. This could do more for helping governments and donors get value for money than all the fiduciary controls we put in place. While we are at it, why don’t donors (including the World Bank) use technology to have the beneficiaries monitor and supervise development projects?[3]


Patient monitoring and followup[edit]

A major challenge in HIV healthcare, for example, is sustaining adherence to antiretroviral treatment. Mobile phones can assist in healthcare delivery. Existing mobile phones and communications infrastructure can enhance healthcare in resource-constrained settings.[4]

Telephone services[edit]

  • GrameenphoneW is the dominant service supplier, and began with a focus on village development. Customers would start a business borrowing money for a phone, repaid by charging other villagers to make phone calls. Today (2009) it is estimated that more than 50 million Bangladeshis have phone connections, compared to 4 million who have internet access.[1]

SMS (text messaging)[edit]

  • Ushahidi uses crowdsourcing for documenting disasters[verification needed] and public accountability, combining social activism, citizen journalism and geospatial information.
  • Microblogging allows easy and sometimes valuable conversations and connections. Use Identi.ca (or StatusNet if you want your own installation using the same software). Note that although Twitter is the most widely used microblogging service, they deliberately make it hard to search past tweets. (If you do want to use Twitter, this is easy to fix: Move to Identi.ca, feed to Twitter from there (easily done, in settings).
  • Food vouchers via SMS: a pilot scheme distributes food vouchers among refugees in Damascus. The vouchers are redeemable against certain goods in government stores. It is intended to allow a more diversified diet based on the preferences of the beneficiaries.[5]
  • Google SMS, launched in June 2009, is a project involving the Grameen Foundation in Uganda, allowing people to find information on health, agriculture and other topics via text messaging. It includes Google Trader, an SMS application that helps buyers and sellers find each other, improving access to markets and trade. See the Google Africa Blog post: Google SMS to serve needs of poor in Uganda.
  • Akvo[1] is developing tools for sharing information on projects and managing microloans, as well as feedback on appropriate water technologies.please expand
  • Text To Change have interactive SMS questionnaire services and other mobile phone services. They are primarily used in health education and health awareness, like HIV / AIDS campaigns at this point, but they are expanding this to other areas. Akvo and Text to Change are planning to work together.please expand
  • Xam Marsé – Senegal: "Launched by Manobi in 2001, this project provides market information to Senegalese farmers, traders, hoteliers and others via internet and free, daily telephone SMS (short message service) messages. Meaning "know your market" in Wolof, Xam Marsé provides SMSs with real-time information on the prices and availability of fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry, available on any of Senegal's markets. Manobi introduced the service to increase access of producers to information that would allow them to make better decisions about sales and purchases.[2]" Contact Daniel Annerose daniel.anneroseAtsymbol.pngmanobiDot.pngnet


Smart phones[edit]

  • Internet access enables access to Appropedia, Wikipedia, wikiHow and other useful information sources.
  • It should be possible to browse these wikis offline
  • Check vision with self-diagnosis, a $2 device and a smart phone with a high resolution screen. Newer phones should be able to get closer than 0.3 diopters.[6]

Call-in services[edit]

  • Question Box[3]: Question Box workers have mobile phones, who can dial their call center and ask questions on behalf of the locals. Operators look up the requested information in a databaseplease expand so it can be passed along to the villagers. This service is particularly aimed at locations where internet may not be available for years.

Notes[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Bangladeshis rush to learn English by mobile, Financial Times, November 13 2009.
  2. I’ve Seen the Future (in Haiti) Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, December 4, 2010
  3. Shanta Devarajan (World Bank Chief Economist for Africa) Development 3.0, 2010-11-05
  4. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-3156.2010.02678.x/abstract - access by subscription
  5. SYRIA: WFP pilots SMS food distribution IRIN News (UN) 4 November 2009
  6. NETRA - Interactive Display for Estimating Refractive Errors and Focal Range, Camera Culture Group, MIT Media Lab.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]