Monday, November 2, 2015

Ushahidi: A crisis mapping and management tool

In early 2008, villages and cities across Kenya were ravaged with violence following a disputed election. The election controversy became the pretext for ethnic clashes that displaced hundreds of thousands of people and claimed the lives of more than 1,200 citizens.  

An ad-hoc group of tech bloggers based in Kenya decided to act. They built a software platform, called “Ushahidi” to highlight human rights violations and, bring much-needed attention and support to emergency response. Ushahidi means “bearing witness” in Swahili. This software enabled Kenyans to document and report incidents in real-time, giving the media, governments, and relief organizations an immediate picture of what was happening on the ground. By aggregating texts, tweets, photos, and descriptions from phones and computers it provided valuable information.

Ushahidi creates crowd sourced maps that document incidents of violence, election fraud, and abuse plainly visible on a broad scale. The information can be submitted by citizens, organizations and anyone who has access to SMS, Email or Texting. 

Since that catalytic moment in 2008, Ushahidi has grown into a mapping platform used in crises around the world, supporting 35,000 maps in 30 different languages. It has been utilized in disasters such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2011 tsunami in Japan, Ushahidi has also been used to organize emergency responses in real-time. Less than an hour after the 2011 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Ushahidi platform was used to spotlight areas of refuge. Most recently, Ushahidi has enabled crowd mapping of violence in Syria’s civil war.1

What is Ushahidi?
Ushahidi is a non-profit tech company established in Nairobi after the 2008 Kenya elections. It specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. It manages and triage reports with filters and workflows. Anyone can log on and create his/her own account. The first 150 posts are free, but there is a charge thereafter, The Ushahidi platform allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline.  Messages are crowd sourced based on location and posted on Google maps. The goal of Ushahidi is stated to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.  

The Ushahidi platform is active worldwide. However, it is yet to be used directly by disaster management teams from world government agencies. 


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