Ushahidi crowdsourcing website deployed in Haiti

No FOOD or Drinking WATER since 1/12, location Tabarre Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 28/01/2010. Help Needed: Santo Community Park, location Santo 17, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan 28 2010. Still in need of food and water at the Carrefour sports centre, location Carrefour sports center Port-au-Prince Haiti, 23:51.

These are messages posted on the Ushahidi.com website, by survivors of the catastrophic earthquake that hit the capital and largest city of the Caribbean nation on January 12.

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is a website that was first developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2007.
The website was used to map incidents of violence in the country based on reports submitted via the web and cellphones.

It has been used in the Democratic Republic of Congo to monitor unrest and al-Jazeera used it to track violence in Gaza. It was also used to monitor the 2009 Indian elections and to help gather reports from around the world during the swine flu outbreak. Now, Haitians are alerting the world to what’s happening around them.

‘Born from the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, Ushahidi kept Kenyans current on vital information and provided invaluable assistance to those providing relief,” said Ory Okolloh co-founder and executive director of Ushahidi at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg on January 22. Okolloh told the media that the Ushahidi platform had already received and mapped 13 000 reports of help from people in Port-au Prince.

How does it work?
Ushahidi can gather information from any device with a digital data connection.

After a report is submitted via SMS, photo or video to the local Haitian short code number 4636, it is then posted in near real time to an interactive map that can be viewed on a computer or smartphone.

But the most powerful feature Ushahidi has to offer, according to Okolloh, ‘is the ability to take the core application and deploy it yourself to suit your community’s needs”.

Ushahidi is open source, so anyone can improve the platform. There is a growing community of developers who are constantly working to improve it, bringing it to as many people as possible.

‘With Ushahidi, it’s easier than ever to get critical and timely information to those that need it most, on a platform that almost anybody can use,” said Okolloh.

Helping Haiti
Across Africa, governments, churches, businesses and civil society leaders are mobilising support for the people of Haiti.

In South Africa, Civicus and its partners, African Monitor, Trust Africa, the Southern Africa Trust, Charity Aid Foundation (CAF) Southern Africa, the South African Red Cross Society, the National Welfare Forum, Ivan May, the Synergos Institute, the Nepad Business Foundation and the African Women’s Foresight Network, have all agreed to join what is known as the Africa for Haiti Campaign, and help in coordinating efforts.

Former first lady Graça Machel and M&Gpublisher Trevor Ncube as well as Archbishops Desmond Tutu and Njongonkulu Ndungane have also pledged their support.

‘The Africa for Haiti Campaign focuses its efforts on reconstruction in Haiti. The objective of the campaign is not to provide immediate relief but rather to contribute toward the medium- to long-term reconstruction of communities in Haiti,” said Machel.

‘We couldn’t allow ourselves to sit and wait with only messages of solidarity. It’s time for Africans to extend solidarity to others.”

‘We need to stand up and be counted and it doesn’t matter how much you contribute. We have been recipients and now its time for us to give back. We can’t afford to stand on the sidelines and be spectators. We believe we should play the little part that we can,” said Ncube.

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