What’s been happening in Syria has been high-level news for some time. It’s estimated that almost three million people have fled across Syria’s borders to escape the gory civil war that has engulfed the nation. The daily flow of men, women and children has become one of the largest forced migrations since World War II. For the first time since then, more than 50 million people worldwide are now living in refugee camps in countries outside their own or are on the run due to conflict.
Millions more continue to live in violent communities around the world, barely surviving. The job to understand the needs of these millions of people in crisis is enormous, especially as humanitarian organisations are working with limited budgets. Plus, the violence hinders the ability of aid groups to access even the most basic information, such as what food refugees have to eat and how much there is left.
The World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, supplies more than 80 million people with critical food assistance annually on an ever-shrinking budget. One of their projects uses mobile phones; the WFP sees this technology as a benefit and a solution to making informed decisions—calling those stranded in violent areas is far less dangerous than sending staff to collect information.
The organisation estimates that it could save up to 40 percent on the cost of data collection by using mobile technologies. It also sees phones as a way to easily and cheaply collect information about food prices and the availability of food, in order to provide earlier warning of crises in the making. The WFP is running pilot programmes to try out this mobile technology, where each project is tailored to the region where the phones are used. The mobile surveys are free to complete and all of the programs offer small phone credits for respondents as an incentive for participants.
For example, in the refugee camps around eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the WFP gave out 300 basic phones, using a WFP-based live call centre to conduct surveys assessing what people were eating, how much and how often. After six rounds of surveys, 72 percent of the original survey group still answered calls, showing that the phones are seen as a valuable asset. However, the trial was not without problems, as the WFP found that response rates dropped after the first round of calls. It sent a member of staff to the camp to find out what was happening and found that the phones were switched off because they could not recharge them—more electrical power is needed. Currently, the WFP is using its mobile phone efforts in conflict areas and is keen to use this technology in more stable regions of the world, in order to better monitor food security over time.
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