On February 21, 2013, Agence France-Presse published “Text messages help Cholera fight in Mozambique,” a report in which author Jinty Jackson recounts the widespread impact of the January floods and aid agencies' mobile initiative to distribute aid.
“The mobile initiative is the latest “e-health” tactic to get aid to flood victims in the southern African nation, hit by the worst deluge in over a decade.”
After the Limpopo River flooded Xai-Xai in late January, killing more than 100 people and impacting the lives of 250,000, Population Services International (PSI), a US-based health NGO, broadcast television and radio announcements encouraging people to send a free text message in order to receive chlorine from local stores. The hope was that when put to the test, their mobile concept would work to facilitate the communication and distribution of aid and reduce the cost of logistics in the impacted communities.
Approximately 300 people in the north have been infected with cholera as a result of drinking unpurified water. Jackson provides a picture of a case in which a flood refugee receives notification via text message of the availability and location of chlorine, a water purifying chemical that kills cholera and other water-borne diseases. At the same time, a shopkeeper across town receives a similar message authorizing his distribution to the specified aid recipient. In this way, mobile communications facilitate the “easy” and efficient exchange.
PSI country director Iulian Circo points out the “business logic” behind the use of SMS distribution.
“We make local shops partners in emergency response. They benefit from responding to the emergency and give us the strength that we don't have—they have penetration in the community.”
While the power of mobile phones to track and coordinate relief efforts has been utilized during humanitarian crises like the Haiti 2010 earthquake, this is the first time the SMS distribution process has been introduced to emergency response efforts, and its developers intend to integrate the tactic into traditional, large-scale emergency response practices.
Jackson concludes with a prediction of the future and an affirmation of SMS distribution's potential: “Floods occur every few years in Mozambique's vast low-lying river basins. Harnessing this informal trade could be key to the emergency response next time around.”