Two weeks ago, in Stockholm, Mohammed Omer and four of his friends gathered to talk about the biting drought ravaging their home country, Somalia. Beyond donating funds, the tech developers and social activists came together to discuss ideas to assist those in need of immediate relief. Eventually, they decided to use Ushahidi the Kenyan open source software to develop a platform that would allow responders to connect with drought victims.
The result was Abaaraha (“drought” in Somali), a crowdsourcing platform that collects and verifies data through text, phone calls, email, and social media alerts. The web portal, which went live on Mar. 16, maps cases of malnutrition, disease outbreaks, and death. “There are no platforms that provide full information” with regards to the drought, says Omer. They’re “trying to fill that gap and to [help] coordinate the relief efforts that are taking place.”
An unprecedented crisis is currently gripping Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen, threatening the lives of 20 million people, according to the United Nations (UN). More than 5 million people face acute food shortages in northeast Nigeria, and famine in parts of South Sudan threatens more than 7.5 million people. In Somalia, where cholera outbreaks have killed hundreds of people, the looming famine threatens 6.2 million—more than half the population. It threatens to bring back the grim reality of 2011, when 260,000 Somalis starved to death.
The UN has given its Food and Agriculture Organization a $22 million loan to help tackle the crisis. Yet, that’s a far cry from the $4.4 billion they need by July to stall Yemenis, Somalis, Nigerians and South Sudanese from dying. But, not waiting on donors, young African professionals both at home and in the diaspora are taking the initiative to connect, collaborate, and raise funds and relief materials to assuage those in need. Equipped with smartphones and access to the internet, they are especially using social media outlets to spread the news about the drought and create positive change.
While raising awareness and funds is a vital part of managing the famine crisis, tech platforms like Abraaraha and others also help authorities identify, track and efficiently respond to specific areas in need, and in turn, helping avert deaths or a humanitarian catastrophe.
These collective efforts have started gaining global traction and drawing the attention of both governments and non-governmental agencies. Their efforts, in countries where governments are known to be slow-paced, inefficient and even corrupt, can prove to be the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands at risk of hunger and disease.