New mobile and web technologies could dramatically change the way disadvantaged countries receive aid, and Manchester University students are at the forefront of the concept.
Worldwide charities have begun to implement new mobile and internet technologies to improve communications between affected communities and aid workers.
Mobiles can now be used to match families together after a natural disaster, as well as helping disadvantaged countries to recover.
Manchester University students thought of the concept ‘Reunite’ 18 months ago to improve the speed of communication in natural disasters. Two students thought it up, and it aims to match lost relatives and friends together.
Gavin Brown, part of the Machine Learning and Optimization Group at the University, said: “In the future, technologies like this will slowly become adopted.
“The barrier that’s slowing it down is showing aid workers it’s possible.”
Mr Brown took the project on and was granted funding to work on it with his own team, The Machine Learning Research Group. The project was developed to essentially bring lost people together by recording a profile of them and matching them to their family who were searching for them.
Mr Brown said: “It is common for aid to group people in to one area. The number of camps increases, sometimes getting to hundreds of thousands of people.
“If you wanted to find your granny for example, it is unlikely you will.”
Information from families about missing people would usually be stored on paper. With the concept of Reunite, profiles are made online by recording interviews with families and gathering information on a central server.
Records are created which are then relayed back to aid workers on the ground who inform survivors, matching them back to their families.
Mr Brown said: “The aim of the technology ‘Reunite’ is for more aid workers to be on the ground providing food and water, whilst matching people together can be done automatically.
“Given certain constraints, we could do this.”
New technologies are being implemented worldwide and the possibilities of them being developed are becoming more apparent.
Action Aid is a worldwide charity, which helps in the recovery of natural disasters.
Airlie Taylor, communications officer for Action Aid said: “I think technology has huge potential to facilitate two way communication”
Mr Brown has taken the concept of mobile technologies furthering communication and developed it in to the Reunite initiative.
Although the project would not be deployed, it’s objective is to inform aid workers that it would be possible in the future.
Reunite software could effectively help to locate missing people, identify those suffering from diseases such as malnutrition, and guide them to safe zones using mobile phones.
It would not only help the victims of disasters, but also help relieve aid workers so they can prioritise their help.
Mr Brown and his team are currently awaiting the possibility of further funding for the project and still aim to inform aid workers of the possibilities of technologies to facilitate help.
For more information on Reunite visit http://mlo.cs.man.ac.uk/reunite/