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Mobile phones help bring aid to remotest regions

Souktel's AidLink uses basic text messaging to help relief workers learn what's happening and give out information on where people can find aid.

By Joseph ZaleskiNourishing the Planet / September 9, 2011

Nurse Serat Amin takes a call on his cell phone at the International Rescue Committee clinic in the town of Dadaab, Kenya, the world's largest refugee camp. He treats the stream of starving children coming into Kenya from famine-struck Somalia. He has lived here for four years, and although he still remembers with pain the children that have died, watching the weak get stronger gives him the courage to carry on.

AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam

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In her recent address before the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to alleviate starvation in the Horn of Africa and build a more secure food supply for the future. Governmental organizations and NGOs are not the only ones supplying innovations and assistance – Secretary Clinton also noted several partnerships with private companies.

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One of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) partners is Souktel, a mobile phone service based in the Middle East.

Information and communication lines are valuable commodities in a world that is growing more connected every year. The founders recognized the potential for burgeoning mobile phone networks, and began their JobMatch service in 2006. Souktel creates databases, message surveys, and instant alerts that can be sent out and received via mobile phone. The platform tries to better connect job seekers with employers through basic Short Message Service (SMS) texting.

More recently, Souktel has applied this system to international development work. By expanding their service into northern and eastern Africa, messaging services are being used to connect mobile phone users in previously impenetrable locations with aid and relief workers.

This AidLink program allows development workers to create text message surveys with real-time feedback from those most in need. It can be used, for example, to send the location of new emergency relief centers or to make sure that hungry rural populations are actually being served.

Souktel’s services are coinciding with the exponential rise of mobile phone use in the developing world. The United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union reports that there were 360 million African and 310 million Middle Eastern mobile phone subscribers in 2010. These recent numbers are up from just 87 million and 85 million respective subscribers in 2005.

Another statistic shows that last year, those 360 million users represented roughly 45.2 subscribers per 100 inhabitants in Africa.

Moreover, Souktel’s messaging services is a cost-effective option for these mobile users in developing countries, with individual charges around $0.07 (seven cents) per text.

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