Last month's WiredUK had an article that sent my mind a-racing in several directions. The article entitled "Organizing Armaggeddon" tracked how smart-phones with apps and geotagging will be used in the future for aid relief. Not that the Ushahidi platform wasn't enough of a digi-revelation, the first relief workers on the ground in Haiti tagged refugee sites with a GPS, what resources were available and what kind of aid was needed.
The article describes an aid worker:
"Chaperon stopped at several to talk with the locals. Clipboard in hand, he jotted down key indicators such as access to water, numbers of children, availability of improvised shelter materials, and whether any other aid outfits had already been there. He snapped the occasional digital photo to augment the reports and logged the location of each camp with a GPS unit -- critical in places like Haiti where there never were many street addresses to begin with.
Back at base camp, his findings would be added to those of other assessment teams, along with information from media reports and other sources, in an ever-growing database."
And the article also explains why natural disasters hit less developed countries particularly hard:
"Earthquakes are an even more lethal threat, particularly in poor countries. Portau-au-Prince and its environs collapsed because of the shoddy construction that is the norm in developing-world megalopolises from Mexico City to Chengdu."
Put bluntly, cities in emerging markets and developing countries have a lot 'slums' or 'squatter camps.' In some places these 'camps' are no longer camps-- they have been so long that they have become essentially permanent structures (see Robert Neuwirth Shadow Cities). In South Africa some squatter camps have become townships, some now becoming sub-metropolitan economies in their own right.
And then it struck me: what if aid workers know who was where already? Why couldn't they know that?
Climate change will bring more natural disasters, and many major cities in emerging markets lie on river deltas, some below sea-level. In Haiti and Indonesia before it, aid workers had to combine data sources to get an idea of the human damage, how many refugees possible.
In South Africa communities have organized to build more solid homes. In Brazil, as Neuwirth documents, communities construct their own infrastructure. Why couldn't a community decide to declare itself by geotagging their homes? The authorities know they are there but don't grant them property rights, without which, they argue, they cannot be provided utilities. But clearly, the authorities know they are physically there. It's also likely in some cases they know whose family lives where.
This morning @tmsruge tweeted an article and a comment (as this is a screenshot of a conversation from a twitter timeline, please remember to read bottom up):
The bit.ly link leads to this article, an (rather presumptive) account why governments refuse to legitimate thriving 'informal' economies. One of the sub-points is that people in 'illegal' settlements have no property rights. The natural extension of that is that they cannot claim certain human rights (per the UN) because they technically don't exist.
But we are now in an era of digital identity where mobile phone ecosystems command local economies. Why couldn't those who dwell in slums self-enfranchise, declare "I have a digital data trail, therefore I am."
I want to present you with the following thought exercise @tmsruge (later joined by @mathpunk) and I pursued this morning (again, as this is from a twitter stream, do remember to read each block from the bottom up:
and then (read bottom up):
and then (read bottom up):
While it's true that a community might not want to self-enfranchise by declaring their location because then the government might know where to come and get them, arrest them, or worse because they are technically illegal, think a minute about the implication and possibility of a neighborhood in an emerging market doing that en-masse. These countries have international reputations to uphold and therefore human rights to uphold as states that are coming into their own. Power in numbers plus the threat of international condemnation... difficult, sensitive.
But worth a thought, no? Especially as Google as a company "Lured by the continent's growth potential, Google aims to convince entrepreneurs, students and aid workers to make use of its search, mapping and mobile-phone technologies."