Cell Phones Playing a Part in Getting Aid to Famine Stricken Somalia

By Oliver VanDervoort September 21, 2011

While people around the globe have found ways to use technology to battle poverty, using smart phones to beat back the famine in Somalia would be a new twist. The US State Department said that donors are trying to find new ways to get around the hard line militants that currently control the country. Cell phone donations could be the way to accomplish the goal.

Technological companies have been taking poverty head on over the last few years. Extremely cheap cell phones have already been brought to the African continent so that lower income families are able to communicate; now cell phones will play another role. Microsoft has announced that they will be buying computers and paying for broadband service for low-income students. While that is a great tact to take for those who can sit down and do their homework, the Somali people have bigger concerns now.

The Al Shabaab insurgents control much of southern Somalia and when they took over control last year booted out most aid groups. The group, which has ties to Al Qaeda, says that foreign aid breeds dependency. Now some of those aid groups say that they have found a way to get money to those most in need using their cell phones. 

Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development says that while the ban on aid has made it harder, cell phones paired with the “hawala” money transfer system has made progress. Hawala is used in quite a few Middle Eastern countries and is their version of the American “Paypal.” 

Shah says that the cell phones and hawala have made it possible to get money to markets that are set along the border regions just outside of Somalia. With the donated money, Shah says that some of the 2.7 million people his group says are in need of aid are starting to get it.

Somalia is in the midst of the worst drought in decades and local agencies estimate that more than 3.7 Somalis are at risk of starvation. Estimates say the rest of Somalia will slide into the famine gripping the horn of Africa, affecting roughly 13 million people total.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

Contributing Writer

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