Has your city’s disaster response kept up with the times? (Probably not)

Tue, 2015-01-13 19:00 -- Kevin Ebi

After a big disaster, there’s a rush to provide people with food, water and shelter. Those are critical needs, sure, but they’re just at the surface of what people really need to get their lives back on track.

The first-ever Middle East Summit on Mobile Technology and Crisis Response highlighted the growing list of things that people truly need to get back on their feet after a disaster. And Council Lead Partner Ooredoo, Qatar’s leading communications company, is teaming with others on a comprehensive new effort to help make sure all the needs are met.

Ooredoo announced it will work with GSMA and Souktel to promote disaster preparedness throughout the Middle East. This effort includes promoting new ways of thinking about disaster response, as well as technologies that can streamline those efforts.

More than three basic needs
As the summit highlighted, the list of basic needs is longer than it traditionally has been. Because of technology and changing times, what most of us have etched in our minds as critical in the wake of a disaster may be woefully outdated.

For example, Iraqi refugees were asked about their most urgent needs. Food and water ranked first and second. But coming in at number three: mobile charging stations.

That insight is already changing the nature of relief operations. For Iraqi refugees trapped on the mountains of northern Iraq, airdrops now include solar lanterns that can also be used to charge phones.

That’s not as silly as it may sound. Throughout the Middle East and northern Africa, more than half the population has a mobile phone. It’s a vital lifeline.

And in Iraq, for those who don’t have mobile service, Ooredoo has distributed 10,000 free SIM cards to refugees. The cards allow refugees to get important information and access relief services. The company also distributed free mobile phones after floods forced people from their homes in Indonesia.

Accelerating disaster response
Ooredoo is also using mobile technology to speed up the delivery of more traditional relief services. When fire destroyed a water and sewage company in the Maldives, leaving thousands without water, Ooredoo started a water-tracking service, helping people finding the nearest mobile water supply.

A disaster response also requires funding. In addition to Ooredoo’s own contributions to relief efforts, it’s also making it easier for others to contribute.

It has set up SMS campaigns allowing people to make donations through their mobile phones. A recent campaign raised funds to help refugees living in the Gaza Strip.

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Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow  @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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