Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, occupied Palestine, war torn Central African Republic and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, they are not places you would expect to find digital technology providing solutions to everyday problems. However, this is exactly what is happening throughout the developing world, now that the smartphone has become an essential item for even the most impoverished communities.
In Dharavi, a ‘teeming slum of 1 million souls,’ domestic violence is widespread. Women there, like the rest of India, are at greatest risk of violence from their husbands or other male family members, with 43.6% of all violence against women committed by this group. The EyeWatch app, developed by the Little Sister Project allows users to reports incidents of violence against women without going through frustrating, bureaucratic and often fruitless police investigations. The NGO supporting the Little Sister Project, SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action) presents the data to police and is also working to train police officers and health workers, to help them identify and better support women who have suffered from violence.
Dar es Salaam on Tanzania’s east coast is one of the continent’s fastest growing cities and with much of the development and infrastructure rising without significant planning it can be a difficult city to navigate. This is where What3Words comes in. The app ‘records GPS coordinates to nine square metres and simplifies them into a three-word combination’ allowing users to better describe their address in times of crisis, emergency or natural disaster.
The occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza are another area of the world in which people live ‘invisibly,’ though not as in Africa, where much of the population live informally and without addresses, Palestinians towns are simply omitted from official maps. Large swathes of Palestinian land appear as blank spaces on google maps, creating the impression nobody lives there. The reality though is that people do live there and cross in and out of Palestine every day, for university, medical appointments, family visits or employment. The checkpoints and accompanying traffic jams are a notoriously time consuming part of Palestinian life. To circumvent the problem two apps, Azmeh and Qalandiya, provide users with up to date information on traffic congestion. This allows users to choose which route and border crossing they will use. Another key feature of the apps is that they are designed to run on slow networks, necessary because Israel does not allow Palestinian telecommunication companies access to 3G networks.
In addition to new apps developed for specific purposes, some traditional apps have adapted to changing circumstances, for example Air B’n’B and Couchsurfing, which European users have been using to offer accommodation to Syrian asylum seekers and refugees. Alongside the use of apps, digital technology has been used in other ways to support the Syrian refugee population including ‘Welcome Talent,’ a LinkedIn initiative connecting refugees with internships, Geecycle which provides second hand phones and Disaster Tech Lab which has been providing Wi-Fi access in makeshift refugee camps.
Returning to Africa, this time in drought stricken and conflict ravaged Central African Republic, an app has been developed to monitor and predict the likelihood of drought, crop failure, malnutrition and access to resources. Data collect from ‘SATIDA Collect’ questionnaires is collated, mapped and uploaded to a central database. From there, agencies such as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) can predict where their services will be needed and respond quicker if and when disaster strikes.
Finally, in Bangladesh the combination of digital technology and green energy has produced incredible results for children in the countries northwest Natore district. The villages in Natore, like much of low lying Bangladesh are prone to flooding, which cuts children off accessing from their schools. To counter this, the schools come to them. A national NGO, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha has developed a fleet of 54 floating schools, targeting poor rural villages, with a focus on girls and women’s education. The boats are powered by solar panels and after launching in 1998, Shidhulai now employs over 200 teachers and drivers, has over 300 volunteers and has won international awards for innovation.