[Cross-posted from Konpa Group Blog, written by Sabina Carlson]
I have read a number of the stories written about the Ushahidi Haiti Deployment, some of which said that it served as a lifeline for many Haitians affected by the earthquake of January 12th. And as the rescue phase transitioned into the recovery phase, as disaster slowly transitioned into development, and as incidents gave way to indicators, our team decided that our platform had served its purpose and that it was time to close Haiti.ushahidi.com. Our site would always be kept up to serve as a snapshot of the crisis phase.
But, back in March, I deployed to the ground to serve as the Ushahidi Haiti Project’s (UHP) field representative for local outreach, and spent a month explaining the Ushahidi and 4636 system to a wide cross-section of Haitian civil society: in the middle of IDP camps, in destroyed churches, in local meeting halls, I explained Ushahidi in Creole and listened to what the affected communities had to say. And I made the interesting discovery that, during the recovery phase, Haitians saw Ushahidi not just as a life line, but a communication line – in fact, the only open communication line that seemed to exist between them and the humanitarian community.
And so, it is hard to convey how inspired, relieved, and motivated I was to hear about the Noula platform: motivated by the same drive to broadcast the voices of the affected population, a Haitian ICT company called Solutions had pooled its resources to create an interactive crisis and needs-mapping platform called “Noula” or “we’re here” in Creole. The concept is simple: based on the shortcode 177, Haitians can call into a call center for free that is staffed by trained operators, and communicate critical pieces of information on their situation or request information. The information is then sorted, categorized, geolocated, and put onto the online platform Noula.ht, where responders can access the information directly or through subscribing to receive alerts.
Although UHP was born in Patrick Meier’s living room and Noula was born in a tent outside of the Solutions’ office, the platforms shared a common core function: to broadcast the voices of disaster affected populations onto a map that the world can see and respond to.
As a team, we saw Noula as having the potential to be that lifeline, that communication line, not just for the current crisis but for the long-term – and so we decided to take our experience, our resources, our networks, and our lessons learned to partner with Solutions to support Noula.
The Solutions team has an incredible wealth of technical experience, and the talent to create an incredibly responsive tool that is tailored to the current crisis and mitigation efforts in Haiti. And while Solutions has all the networks and knowledge to build a tool for the public authorities in Haiti, they requested extra support in reaching out to the humanitarian community to understand how the tool could be best used by them as well.
This is where I have come back into the complex crisis communications world in Haiti: to act as a liaison between the Noula team and the humanitarian community. I have been here to find out about how information could best flow between the Haitians calling into the call center every day to the cluster leads and logisticians and information management officers that direct the humanitarian effort every day.
It has been an incredible opportunity to work with a dedicated piece of Haitian civil society to build from the ground up a crisis communications platform that is not only specifically tailored to Haiti, but to the complex post-earthquake, pre-hurricane reconstruction and risk reduction environment the country finds itself in.
And I am also grateful that our networks, experiences, and lessons learned from the Ushahidi Haiti Deployment can play a modest but consistent role in supporting what is now, and will continue to be, that channel of communication I found to be so vital back in March.