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NGOs owe a debt to amateur bloggers

It’s been five years since the Indian Ocean tsunami. Not long, but an age in terms of online developments.

A revolution has occurred between then and now in how NGOs get information to those affected by disasters, and how they report events to the rest of the world.

But back in the final days of 2004, reports emerged of how amateur ‘web loggers’ (remember them?) – not NGOs or news organisations – were publishing some of the most vivid accounts first.

We learned how a Sri Lankan blogger, Morquendi, sent text messages from his mobile phone when his internet connection failed, giving descriptions of scenes of mass burials. A blog group based in India began posting his texts on their blog, which in turn was read by thousands of people around the world – a sort of proto-Twitter.

And another blog run by volunteers in India, the South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog, became a key resource for aid agencies.

Fast-forward five years, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation is among those to have caught up, with the launch yesterday of its Emergency Information Service.

EIS says its ‘action units’ – teams of specially trained Reuters journalists – will, within hours of a disaster, arrive in affected areas to seek out, collate and disseminate information to the disaster-struck population.

It promises to be incredibly slick: the teams will “assimilate and process multiple information streams, with information services in local languages via SMS, email and web”. Information as aid, according to Monique Villa, the foundation’s chief executive, will be as crucial as shelter and blankets in an emergency in 2010.

Which makes it all the more impossible to re-read those 2006 Asian tsunami stories about sketchy, uncoordinated – but nevertheless brilliantly resourceful – efforts by amateurs, without asking the question: why weren’t NGOs alive to the possibilities of the internet five years ago?

And what opportunities might they be missing now?

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  • Chan barnes

    I’ve had it now with the sector ive worked in the vcs for almost 30 years and never seen anything like it, my charity is having to close due to funding cuts and its not nice, its unpleasant and then the commission are not helpful at all, then you get the gossips starting its awful