The Power of Info Tech
Following the earthquake there was a major influx in phone usage. Telecom operators blocked calls to insure critical connections such as those used by emergency services could be made. This led to people switching to alternative communication systems like social media, instant messaging and Voice Over IP (Internet Protocol) to connect with friends and family. This instantly made social media and text messaging platforms such as Viber, Whatsapp and Skype the platform for information dissemination.
Various communication platforms facilitated communication by providing free services. One such initiative was the free phone services provided by Nepal Telecom, and free messaging services provided by Ncell. Some of the other initiatives undertaken were those provided by Viber and Skype.
Information and communication technologies not only allowed people to interact but also facilitated in mobilizing rescue and relief operations by identifying areas, communities and individuals who needed assistance. It is still assisting in need assessment of affected areas and coordination relief efforts and fund raising accordingly. The extensive use of ICT has enhanced people’s solidarity, meanwhile also garnering international support and generating worldwide humanitarian assistance.
The April 25th disaster sparked a complex web of fast paced information exchange in social media between individuals and organisations. Social media was quick to respond to the disaster. It emerged as the first platform for information gathering and sharing. This helped in improving quick disaster response allowing individuals, communities and organisations to take control of the situation. Social media proved effective in the following areas:
- Bandwidth: Its ability to reach an unlimited number of people in limited amount of time.
- Response: Social media proved to be an effective virtual social platform where if one were to seek help, the community was quick to respond.
- Power: It proved that postings on social media do make an impact if the message is right. It showcased an ability to alert the media, general people, organizations, the government as well as the global community to issues, new developments and change to current responses towards aid and reconstruction.
ICT provided a platform for organizing resources and mapping communities based on need to deploy teams. The work done by the open source software community and volunteer technologist’s filled gaps in Nepal’s outdated and incomplete spatial data infrastructure which provided accurate and current information on human and physical geography.
ICT also immediately assisted fundraising by allowing the global community to donate online for Nepal’s recovery. Nepali’s abroad started fundraising on various crowd sourcing sites in addition to the direct funds coming in to local and international NGOs, from those that did not have access to sending funds any other way.
With shortage of helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV or Drones) played an important role in assessing the devastation of the earthquake. The drones captured raw footage of the destruction within the valley and rural parts of the country allowing rescue workers and manned helicopters to mobilise rescue missions. Similarly, Finding Individuals for Disaster and Response technology or “Google Person Finder” was also used to locate individuals.
If one sector has really been pushed to innovate by the earthquake, it is the ICT sector. We will continue to see more innovation as the role of technology in relief, rescue and reconstruction has been greatly appreciated and understood. With Nepal having almost a 100% penetration of telephone services and 40% penetration of internet services, the opportunities for growth of e-commerce are many.