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Tech aids Philippines disaster relief

Read time 3min 00sec

Super Typhoon Haiyan has been labelled as one of the worst natural disasters on record.

In the aftermath of the storm, which hit the Philippines last week, relief workers, survivors and international aid organisations are turning to technology to co-ordinate their efforts.

One of the biggest challenges following a natural disaster of this magnitude is getting aid to the survivors on the ground, says Scott McCallum, CEO of Aidmatrix, a Texas-based company that provides solutions to mobilise more than $1.5 billion in aid across the globe each year.

Using the same disaster relief systems that were implemented following the Haiti earthquake, the Japan tsunami and Superstorm Sandy, Aidmatrix is providing software to its partners across the world in an attempt to assist in the transportation of medicine and food to those who have lost everything.

Another initiative that has proven helpful to the storm-ravaged island nation is the crowdsourced creation of a detailed map of the areas affected by the super typhoon. OpenStreetMap (OSM) collects geospatial data, which is being used by the Red Cross to co-ordinate its volunteer efforts.

Since the storm hit, more than 400 volunteers have edited the OSM, following a call from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team on Twitter, which asked people to map places of the Philippines that were in the path of the storm so that help could be sent to the worst-affected areas.

Dale Kunce, senior geospatial engineer at the American Red Cross, notes that this technology allows the Red Cross to "make decisions based on evidence, not intuition". While they can use conventional maps to learn where roads and buildings should be, the data describing the land after the storm allows them to see where roads and buildings actually are, Kunce adds.

Similarly, Google has developed various crisis tools to help those affected by the natural disaster. The search engine giant has also created a relief map detailing affected areas and providing updates about shelters, evacuation centres and hospitals. In addition, Google has launched person finder, which helps individuals search for people who were displaced by the storm.

Using this service, people can insert the name of the person they are looking for, using the "I'm looking for someone" function, or can offer insights about people via the "I have information about someone" function.

Other tech bigwigs are also doing their bit to help the survivors. US carriers AT&T and Verizon have offered free calls and texts to the Philippines for customers trying to contact friends and family in the region, while Facebook is giving free access to Philippine-based smartphone users, the first time the social network has granted Asian smartphone users full access to the network without any charges for data.

For those who want to help out, iTunes has opened a facility to allow customers to donate anything from $5 to $200 to victims of the typhoon via the American Red Cross, and the United Nations World Food Programme has created an online donation page to provide food and resources to affected regions. The Salvation Army has also set up an online donation facility, in addition to an SMS contribution facility, which donates $10 for each SMS sent.

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