An unfolding story of a crisis: Aggregating information in response to natural disaster in Haiti

In response to the earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, Ushahidi quickly built an online information resource platform for Haiti, which lets people on the ground pinpoint on a map specific places where help is immediately needed and to provide updates and stories via text, email, tweeting and an online form. The site also provides photos, videos and news about shortages, response and threats.

The earthquake was massive and catastrophic, with Red Cross estimates of 50,000 dead at this writing, and many more displaced and missing. Those on the ground believe one-third of the country's nine million people could need emergency aid (John O'Shea of GOAL). The country, already the poorest in the Western hemisphere, is going to require a huge influx of aid as well as debt relief, and efforts at reconstruction and regeneration in the longer term. These are things that will be managed (hopefully) on a global, governmental and NGO/institutional level. Beyond this, there are also opportunities for citizen action and donation, suggested at aggregation sites such as The Clinton Foundation, the Green Family Foundation, and*.

But in this case, Ushahidi's site is a bit different. While a comprehensive and managed platform- a great example of the power of media and information to support immediate need in crisis situations- it is nevertheless heartbreaking to read, especially from a distance, aggregating not only necessary resources but also virtual cries for help. People trapped under rubble, families looking for the missing who may not be found, churches and homes and hospitals crumbling. All these calls for help and for action- verified or not- are detailed in the site's Reports section. Because international aid is as of this writing hampered, access to sites such as Ushahidi's platform might be the most effective way for people to activate on the ground. For the rest of us, the Reports unfold the story of the crisis in real-time, through firsthand accounts and requests for assistance from the actual people on the ground and in need, moving us from remote viewers to passive (or perhaps 'active' in the case of a few) participants. Perhaps this lens will work in an way that moves beyond short-term awareness, to influence a sustained reconstruction and regeneration effort and for preventive measures and just treatment that will reduce risks associated with other crises.

(This post excerpted and cross-posted at the Resist Network.)

*Professional affiliation

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