chapter  36
New communications technologies in emergencies
ByStuart Garman
Pages 13

The landscape of humanitarian action, as the prevailing narrative goes, is changing. The frequency and severity of environmental and confl ict-related emergencies is increasing; traditional forms of humanitarian aid are becoming less and less relevant; and we face an uncertain future which demands organizational adaptation and innovation (Feinstein International Center (FIC) 2010). Meanwhile, global technological trends are off ering unprecedented levels of connectedness for aid agencies and aff ected communities: there are now 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world, one-third of the world’s population is online, and mobile subscriptions in Africa are projected to reach 850 million by 2017 (International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 2012; Cisco 2013). Underlying these technological developments, there is an increasing conceptual recognition within the humanitarian sector that eff ective communication and information-sharing with crisis-aff ected populations is an essential part of humanitarian assistance (IFRC 2011a). Out of these twin imperatives, and the catalyzing event of the Haiti 2010 earthquake, has emerged a new model for information and communications processes in emergencies. During the Haiti response, social media and mobile technologies were used by both aid agencies and local communities in their relief eff orts; technical and geospatial experts pioneered the use of crowdsourcing and open-source platforms to map and coordinate the response; and a global community of online volunteers mobilized to assist with aggregating, translating and mapping the messages being received from those in need of assistance (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) 2011).