Sometimes statistics seem inadequate to describe real life.
Take Niger, one of the countries that make up the Sahel, the vast, semi-arid land, stretching 3,600 miles across Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. The region is by marked by constant, intense heat, minimal rainfall, and periodic droughts and food crises.
The U.N. forecasts that about 66 million people in the Sahel are at risk of hunger this year, up from 11.3 million from the year before. Niger, with a population of more than 16 million, ranks last on the 2014 U.N. Human Development Index, (187 of 187 countries), which measures life expectancy and standard of living.
Harry Plant, Aeris Communications vice president of social sector, just got back from Niger. He stayed in Niamey, the capital of the country, and visited the surrounding area.
Aeris is examining ways to help nongovernment organizations (NGOs) deliver services more effectively to those in need in the Sahel, Plant says. These NGOs may be able to take advantage of Aeris machine-to-machine (M2M) cellular connectivity to communicate across the huge geographic area in which they are operating.
Aeris is working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an NGO that responds to the worlds most difficult humanitarian crises, to develop ways to enable the IRCs field workers to collect and transmit data via cellular connections. The IRCs projects in Niger involve both providing emergency assistance to refugees from conflicts in neighboring Mali, Libya, and Nigeria, as well as developing resilience programs for residents of a country regularly hit by disasters including drought, flooding, cholera and locust swarms and in which over half the population suffers from food shortages.
Theres a huge amount of data collected by IRC workers, Plant explains. And if we can equip the field workers with smartphones or tablets, they can send the information with SMS messages out from the field to headquarters within minutes, rather than bringing it back and retyping it weeks or months later, thats a faster response time that can keep people better informed and deal with crises more effectively.
Weve been very successful with commercial ventures, so its a good time to step back and say, How can we do good in the world? How can we make our technology available to people who cant afford it and provide some benefit to people in need, Plant adds. You have a region thats incredibly under-resourced. Theres a lot of good work being done by interesting groups that we think we can to help.