Saturday, January 23, 2010

Online Mapping: From Haiti to Kenya

In the recent tragedy that came from the earthquake in Haiti, it is interesting to see the role that technology has played in communication during the chaos that has ensued.

Many, many posts ago, I discussed the online mapping project, Ushahidi, which served as a portal for Kenyans to report the violence that erupted after their presidential elections in December 2007. Since then, Ushahidi has expanded to document crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the War on Gaza and violence in Pakistan. Its latest project has been helping those in Haiti.

With phone lines collapsed and many anxious over the fate of their loved ones, Ushahidi teamed up with Digicel, a local mobile phone operator, and established a way for people to send text messages.

Here's how it works:
  • People can send their message to text number 4636 via cell phone or through the Web site
  • The message is then translated by volunteers
  • Once the volunteer finds more information and verifies it, the report is mapped
  • Aid agencies are then able to directly act on the message
Here's a full report from the BBC.

Additionally, online mapping is being utilized to help Kenyans in a different way than Ushahidi once did. In response to the massive droughts from last year which made it increasingly difficult for herdsman to insure their livestock, satellite imagery is making it possible to get insurance. These images can gauge the severity of drought allowing herdsman to receive automatic payment for any losses. This will help replace the expensive process of insurers having to check reported livestock deaths before making any payments.

The potential for online mapping is diverse as seen by the projects mentioned above. If it can already be used in a variety of different ways from communicating during an environmental disaster to creating a more efficient way to earn a living, there will be vast opportunities for this technology to be utilized in even more productive ways as it continues to evolve.

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