Information and communications technologies are essential for relief and development, but only when they are people-centred, says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on the eve of the United Nation’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), in Tunis, from 16 to 18 November.
Information and communications technologies promise swift information-sharing, which is crucial for humanitarian relief and development work. But technology alone is not enough. Information only becomes life-saving when it is taken the “last mile” to those who need it.
The International Federation calls this extension of sophisticated technology to grassroots communities, “e-preparedness.” Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ youth and volunteer networks, with 100 million people in 183 countries, are an essential part of e-preparedness, spreading information about natural disasters or communicable diseases, such as avian flu.
“Everyone needs access to information, but especially populations that are vulnerable because of age, illiteracy, displacement, poverty, marginalisation, social exclusion, discrimination or exposure to disasters, said International Federation Secretary General Markku Niskala.
“Red Cross and Red Crescent youth and volunteers are agents of social equality and dignity, providing access to information to populations on the “wrong” side of the digital divide.
“At WSIS, the International Federation will be advocating for more recognition of the vital role of youth and volunteers in e-preparedness for disasters or health risks. Youth and volunteers use technology – such as mobile phone text messages - to translate information into life-saving action,” Niskala said.
Every hurricane season in the Americas, when terrible storms strike, those countries that get the information and manage to spread the word, suffer much less.
In Jamaica, once meteorological information is received electronically and analysed, Red Cross volunteers like Patricia Greenleaf, from Cedar Valley, get to work, going from street to street, using megaphones to alert people to the danger. They encourage marginalised groups or people with special needs such as older people or those with a mental impairment to hang out a white flag to signal that they need help to evacuate. “I was glad that I could warn them before the storm,” said Greenleaf after one ferocious storm.
At WSIS, the International Federation, which already has partnerships with Microsoft, Ericsson, DHL and other technology companies, will urge the creation of more such partnerships, as well as for funding for community-centred information and communications technology and for communities to be e-prepared for disasters to ensure that catastrophes do not continually destroy lives and livelihoods and threaten the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.