Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference 28-30 October 2009 Berg-en-Dal Kruger National Park

South Africa ISBN 978-0-620-45037-9

Re-thinking Acute Emergencies Response through Communication Technology in African Rural Communities
Kathleen Diga (Mdev) International Development Research Centre kdiga@idrc.or.ke Jason Musyoka (Mdev) jasonmusyoka@gmail.com

Abstract Local rural communities frequently receive little assistance in resolving acute emergencies. Some African governments have attempted to implement emergency hotline numbers to facilitate a rapid response to emergency situations, but in most cases coverage is limited to urban areas or transport routes. Despite the growth of mobile phone usage, these emergency hotlines remain unknown to, and unused by, many rural citizens. A further problem with these free numbers is that abusive prank calls are made to the emergency call centres which tie up hotlines and fatigue emergency service
dispatchers.

In rural areas, emergencies are thus resolved using alternative local mechanisms and adapted practices mediated through available technologies. The research findings from the case study in Winneba, Ghana, revealed that respondents would contact radio stations to report accidents, or collect personal phone numbers of emergency service personnel, local clinic doctors or police chiefs. However, local mechanisms may lead to various barriers such as potentially asymmetrical emergency information to a certain population and can remain on a “who-you-know” basis. Individuals who are new to an area or those disadvantaged with poor social networks are limited to time-consuming and costly options for assistance during emergencies. In order to improve development practice in the context of the issues discussed above, there is a need for communities to explore awareness programs on emergency communication procedures as
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9 -114-

well as to improve outreach relationships with the local community and their local emergency service facilities. This approach entertains the view that appropriate technologies and training could be far more useful in facilitating emergency cases in rural areas.

Keywords: emergencies, ict4d, ghana, africa, livelihoods, ictd

Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-115-

INTRODUCTION

A substantial amount of literature is emerging about mobile phones being the ‘the next big thing’ in development both globally and in Africa. Output by authors such as Scott et al. (2004), Heeks and Jagun (2007), Vodafone (2004) and Bertolini (2004), among others, have delivered positivist verdicts on not only the growth of mobile phones in Africa, but also their precise impact on the livelihoods of ordinary citizens - the majority of which are poor. Scott et al. (op. cit.) attempt to explain the shifts from traditional roles of mobile phones as intermediaries of social networks to economically-based tools. By any account, this is a notable discovery for both mobile phone users and policy makers. But while this progress is commendable, profound challenges are still faced by fundamental development sectors such as the security sector. On this, Goodspeed (2007: 3) argues that Africa will always be faced with political instability and crises as long as “… the frequency of armed conflicts, accepted gauges of life expectancy, infant mortality, general health levels, education, corruption, incidence of mass murder, international crime, human rights abuse,…” remained. For Goodspeed, “…unless there is major change, Africa is likely to be a cauldron of war and a source of infectious instability for decades”. The question remains whether the usage of the mobile phone can be a contributing catalyst to change in the security sector particularly during emergency situations. The above cases have generated much hype around how mobile phones have delivered some social and economic impact, yet this technology has yet to prove that its function can also provide substantial change within insecure emergency cases.

Security issues contribute to development at many levels. For this reason, any efforts directed towards a reduction of insecurity, by engaging both preventative and ameliorative measures of emergency response, will serve to deliver development, which Africa desperately requires. And if information and communication technologies (ICTs) form part of ‘the next big thing’ on development both at policy and individual levels, it is necessary to investigate how this innovation is interacting with citizen security during emergencies, including within non-mainstream regions such as rural areas. More specifically, there is a need to determine how new technology usage has included acute emergency responses from both demand and supply sides in these underdeveloped areas of Africa.

Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-116-

In this paper, the authors explore the critical issue: to what extent has the usage of mobile phones improved or hindered reactions to acute emergency situations such as road accidents, illnesses and robbery in rural communities. Within this framework, the paper will be organized as follows: Section One looks at the explosion of mobile phone usage in Africa, the forces that drive and sustain this explosion, how this explosion interfaces with security issues in the context of emergencies and development. With a progressive focus upon rural contexts, this section sets the tone for the study. Using Winneba (a remote Ghanaian village in the Gold Coast region) as a case study, and utilizing data that was collected by one of the authors of this paper, Section Two will refine the focus to show how mobile phone technologies have or have not influenced trends in emergency responses. This section will balance out the ‘call’ for emergency responses by citizens and the delivery of emergency supplies by the state. Most importantly, this paper treats the communication factor and rural communities as the overarching themes, in which case the ‘content’ of emergency services takes a back seat in this study. To be fair to the subject of ‘emergency content,’ we reserve its exclusive attention for another project. 1. TALKING TO AFRICA ON MOBILE PHONES: THE CURRENT ‘BIG THING’. 1.1 The ‘Drive’ To Mobile Phones There is enough evidence to suggest that Africa is a thriving market for mobile phone technology. In Africa, there has been a 50.9% average growth rate of new mobile phone subscribers on the continent from 2001 – 2006; this is the highest average growth rate compared to all the other continents which average between 11.9% - 22.7% (ITU, 2007). This growth arrived only after the telecommunications industry learned many lessons from the past particularly from malfunctioning fixed line phone services (usually owned by the state). The state was found to use its public telecom enterprise to serve the non-poor, provide limited installation, and deliver inefficient customer service among other deficits. In the language of the World Bank (2004b; 2), these deficiencies further include “…poor quality; long queues and large portions of the population without access to basic services; lack of transparency; and damaging political interference in the operations of these infrastructure entities”. The World Bank’s critique falls within a broader theoretical frame that emerged during the 1980s, which chastises the public sector in general for poor service delivery. This frame of thinking sees privatization and liberalization of public services as a feasible alternative, with competition seen
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9 -117-

as playing a major role in sustaining efficiency. According to Howitz and Currie (2007) however, a state that chooses privatization over liberalization can end up with non-competitive behavior and deliver damaging exclusivity rights, as is the case of fixed line telephony in South Africa. A revised version of privatization, which sustains this line of thought, is the increasingly prominent Public Private Partnership (PPP). The underlying notion of these sorts of discourses and their revised versions is that, whatever the context, the public sector requires some ‘assistance’ to deliver effective telecommunications to the country, whether it be radical or moderate.

So far, many African states have chosen the route of liberalisation of the mobile phone telephony sector, allowing for the many operators to develop continent-wide infrastructure and mobile phone services, but to be directed under the regulation of each country. In an African regulation survey by the ITU (2004), 73% of African nations have multiple operators and competition within their country’s mobile telephony industry in pursuit of what Benard (2004) terms high demand and low implementation costs.

The telecommunications industry in Africa has evolved from state driven monopolies towards open competition with assigned regulation which allowed industry entry of many mobile phone operators and fewer fixed line companies. The state revamped its role as the overarching watchdog of the industry to allow for equity and fairness through its regulatory bodies. The end result of this reform saw substantial investment by the country as well as industry in order to meet the growing demand for quality and wide-reaching services of telecommunications.

1.2 Mobile phone demand: the bundling approach As mobile phone operators improve their services to the public, the Africa population has shown its approval through the phenomenal increase in demand for access to mobile telephony. According to the ITU (2009: 3), one-fourth of the Africa population are mobile phone subscribers. Much of this growth is due to improved mobile phone coverage throughout Africa and to the lower cost of mobile phone handsets entering the continent.

What this means is that mobile phones are now seen as ‘opportunity carriers’ for local communities in Africa. These opportunities are not just social, but also socio-economic. This argument aligns with minor yet emerging discourses and practices which have tended to bundle mobile phones with
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9 -118-

specific sectors. For example, Heeks and Jagun (2007) note the link between mobile phones and micro-enterprises, Vodafone (2004) picks up other socio-economic links such as mobile phones and (a) improved relationships, (b) greater travel savings (c) increased job search and (d) increased access to business information.

One bundle which has not been well researched is the links between mobile phones and acute emergency response. Acute emergency will specifically address localized emergency cases such as individual sickness, car accidents and robbery and will not touch upon large scale natural disasters or national emergencies. The Vodafone study notes that their South Africa and Tanzania research found phone usage to access emergency services. Bertolini (2004) linked mobile phones to food security, and Ukeje (2005) found an unquestionable network between mobile phones with human security. The lack of literature on the linkage between mobiles and acute emergency response shows the need to identify the usage and adapted practices given the new technology and thus justifies the following sub-section to describe the bundle of mobile phones and security.

1.3 Mobile Phones and Security (or Emergency) Services Security issues are deeply rooted in theories of political economy, which recommend security as one of the primary roles of the state. Stretching back to Aristotle (1994, translated from 350 B.C.E), scholars have argued that personal security is critical for personal happiness. More recently, renowned scholars such as Amartya Sen (1999) have elaborated on the concept of a capabilities framework, where security is one of the five capabilities required in order to gain individual freedom: “freedom from crime and violence, and social safety net to prevent misery, starvation, death.” (quoted in Heeks and Molla, 2008: 32). Security is therefore a cross-cutting theme, which transcends individual liberty, national economies, as well as political and social stability.

Change of individual behavior is certainly observable, when an environment has evolved from insecurity to one that is safe from rampant criminal activity or constant illness. Police, fire services and ambulance are part of the social safety net or security service that protects citizens from harm or danger to themselves and their property. Emergency services are an attempt to reduce the vulnerability of its citizens during emergencies. They therefore need to act in an effective and equitable manner in order to save lives. Given the need for security in order to see an improvement in livelihoods particularly during emergencies, the question remains whether the introduction of
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9 -119-

mobile phone telephony has affected citizens’ sense of safety and the cost of security in their rural environment. For example, has security been improved in their communities through the improved thoroughfare of time sensitive information? Given the improved access to information, have communities seen speedy deployment of emergency action plans? In order for the emergency respondents to be able to choose the best course of action, they need to have accurate information. A project like Ushahidi (2009) tries to improve fast information delivery during a disaster. The application attempts to map incidents of violence or uprisings reported by citizens through mobile phones like those that occurred during the 2007 Kenyan elections. All information sent via SMS by Kenyan informants are then aggregated onto a map of Kenya and sent out to respective information centres for possible remediative action. Have these technologies helped to improve emergency response?

Given the historical failure of many African states to implement efficient state-run telecommunication enterprises, another question remains as to whether an emergency communication service should be left at the hands of the state. Would a public-private partnership be effective for country-wide emergency hotlines in Africa? The following case study attempts to analyse the emergency response by citizens in a rural town in Ghana. The study also observes the perceived effectiveness of the national emergency hotline number for fire, police and ambulance services. The efficacy of statedelivered emergency service hotlines in rural areas will be assessed in the following section.

2.

THE IMPACT OF MOBILE PHONES ON EMERGENCY RESPONSES IN WINNEBA VILLAGE, GHANA Methodology

2.1

A case study approach was adopted using multiple qualitative tools, specifically the application of the case study methods and qualitative data analysis with the open source tool, TAMS Analyzer. The field work was conducted in Winneba Village, Ghana, towards the end of the rainy season during October and November 2008 and the location was selected due to meeting rural criteria and to enable the researcher to access logistical support from regional research partners. The community was chosen as it was accessible by local transport, there was mobile phone connectivity, it was a safe location, and it had sporadic electricity brown-outs. The study conducted three in-depth focus group discussions and fourteen one-on-one semi-structured key informant interviews. The key
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-120-

informants include firefighting staff, police, nurse administrators and phone business operators. Names of the respondents have been changed in this paper. The results included the respondent’s reaction to acute emergencies both before and after the proliferation of mobile phones in Winneba and what costs they incur in order to gain assistance or information from technologically-based services. The rationale for the case study methodology is to get a true micro-level sense of behavioral changes in a rural community since the inception of mobile phone services in the village.

2.2 2.2.1

Case Study Findings Study site – Winneba, Ghana

Ghana is a West African country and an active participant in the extraordinary growth of mobile phone telephony. According to a recent expenditure study by Gillwald and Stork (2008), Ghanaians in the bottom 75% of the individual income bracket spend 16% of their individual income on mobile phone services while the top 25% spend 7.1%. According to the ITU (2007), the number of mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in Ghana in 2002 was 1.9 and in 2007 this had risen to 32.4.

Winneba is 35 miles, or 45 minutes by car, from the capital city of Accra. Winneba, with a surrounding population of around 40,000, is a teacher training university village along the Cape Coast with three campuses located around the area. There is a large student population, which creates a substantial influx and efflux of the village population between university term times and holiday periods. While the campus area itself reflects a more peri-urban section, the community surrounding the university very much fit a rural village description with some of the population subsisting on fishing, agriculture and small trade.

2.2.2

Behavioral / Perception Changes: Before the mobile phone

When Ghanaians possess a mobile phone handset, their behavior in response to an emergency changes dramatically. Before the mobile phone diffusion in Winneba, respondents in the area stated that emergencies response would consist of obsolete or delayed information, costly delivery of messages, and low confidence for citizens to take action and assist the situation. Firstly,

respondents found much delay in time, wasted energy and risk taken in emergency response when mobile phones were non-existent. Messages can take hours or days past the event for outside families to be aware and to take action. As few citizens owned vehicles in town, many would use costly private taxis for transport. Several respondents recalled times when they would have to flag
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9 -121-

down a taxi at the main road and bring the driver to the emergency or to the police station or hospital. Substantial time was wasted and great effort was used to find help without a mobile phone. Secondly, information exchange was extremely costly when urgent messages of distress were delivered by messengers or themselves to relatives outside of Winneba. One respondent stated, “before, in times of emergency, we have to travel to tell our relatives and sometimes, it is difficult to raise [the money] even the transport fare.” Lastly, respondents were in resource poor settings when dealing with emergencies and some feel inadequate in assisting with an emergency. One younger respondent did not feel confident with his abilities to assist during an emergency when he had no phone. He states, “when I was not using the phone, I didn’t understand what an emergency was. It’s like I didn’t, nothing pushed me to do something. Even if there was an emergency, I feel like I was caged, I can’t do anything about it.” The perception of having an inadequate ability to assist in an emergency as well as the costly delay of information received during a serious incident were some of the weaknesses of everyday response to emergencies before mobile phones existed in the Winneba area.

2.2.3

Today and the mobile phone in emergencies

Today, mobile phones have strengthened active self-reliance, provided quick yet costly information transfer, developed etiquette of always-on business, and improved the safety of the people in Winneba.

Active Self Reliance As for active self-reliance, one respondent (Edgar, 19, internet café worker) felt the mobile phone has given him the catalyst to act when an emergency occurs: “since I have the phone, when I see something, like threat to life, I can do something, let me do my best and push my quota in, and see what comes out”. Another respondent, Jessie (28, internet café staff) mentioned the ability to make a phone call and access his own savings from individuals if ever in a difficult situation. He stated, “in times of emergency, we call such a person and sometimes he meets us with the money at the hospital.” Several self-motivated Winneba citizens mentioned communication strategies that have improved their own pro-active abilities to react to emergencies.

One major downside was that most respondents spent more money on using their mobile phones during an emergency situation than using it on an average day. Another person felt continuously
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9 -122-

obliged to make phone calls which add up in costs: “The disadvantage too is when you don’t have the resource to buy credit.” The phone calls that were made by Ghanaians were relatively expensive. For emergencies, the caller needed to make time to deliver concise and full information to the receiver as to the emergency situation. Some realized the need to make lengthier calls and thus callers must prepare by purchasing more airtime credit to reload on the phone prior to the call. One respondent, “because you call a doctor on your mobile, you have to tell the doctor everything about the patient… you talk more, so you spend.” A regular phone call which was usually short converted to longer, prolonged calls during emergency cases. Despite the costs, the information was instant and response for assistance was just as quick.

‘Always-on’ Business Calls The nurse respondents found patients would call them on their personal mobile numbers in order to seek immediate advice on crucial health issues. The patient was aware that the nurse was familiar with his or her situation, thus, he or she would rather call the nurse and avoid wasting time to reexplain the patient’s history at the hospital with unfamiliar staff member. One nurse stated what occurs with outpatients, “at times, too, the patients call us when they have a problem, [and] when they are discharged and having some problems. They call us on the phones to seek advice… You just help.” The calls and visits to the nurses were made at all times of the day and night. The information would be immediate and the patient then avoided unnecessary long hospital line ups, waste of labour time, and travel costs. The patient’s anxiety was also lowered as they are re-assured by a competent health worker as to the follow-up action to their condition.

Within a hospital unit, nurses used their own phone and airtime credit to communicate amongst themselves and other hospital staff. In an environment which required immediate feedback to a patient’s condition, nurses were willing to incur such costs for the health of their patients. Taxi drivers were also always on call since community members store their numbers and contact them for any immediate transport assistance. The short phone call has helped to eliminate the time lost from walking for help to the main road (which can be a distance for many villagers) or waiting for a taxi. As a result of the mobile phone, emergency staff were on call twenty-four hours a day to provide service to his or her community.

Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-123-

Improvement in Safety The mobile phone has helped to improve safety for some of the respondents. In the case of emergencies that occur at night, the villager can call the number of a taxi driver stored in her phone directory. In the past, respondents recalled walking on the streets late at night either while sick or sending for help through a friend which endangers their safety where many streets are unlit and risk of danger is higher. The mobile phone also offered such late night strategies of immediate real-time communication in difficult scenarios and thus improves ability to reach close family or relatives as well as emergency services at a moment’s notice. This improvement of safety also lowered anxiety and worry of both parties.

Respondents who owned mobile phones felt less vulnerable during an emergency situation, and felt that they were more useful, or were able to be more pro-active, in assisting their neighbors or others during an emergency. Despite the quick response to emergencies, the cost of mobile phones during emergencies was perceived relatively high for the citizens.

2.2.4

Emergency Communication Service Reviewed

Emergency communication services have also been implemented in Ghana. We found a poor perception from respondents in regards to the emergency hotline numbers. Some respondents were unaware of the emergency hotline numbers or have weak contact available with the operators. One respondent said that she did not know the hotline number and she would instead use her mobile phone to call the local radio station to report any major incidents.

Respondents who were aware of the emergency hotline found it difficult to reach an emergency service operator or dispatcher using mobile phone or fixed line services. Citizens encountered busy signals or could not connect to any line at all when calling one of Ghana’s toll-free emergency numbers, ‘191’, ‘192’, or ‘193’. The inability to reach the emergency service dispatchers deterred usage of hotlines during an emergency, particularly when one was desperate for immediate assistance. Harold (20, labourer) referred to an experience, “one thing about fire service, sometimes you call them, [the fire staff say,] ‘oh we are coming’, but they might not come.” Citizens of Winneba did not find the hotlines reliable especially when relaying messages of emergency to its respective services.

Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-124-

Conversely, the emergency service dispatchers were inundated by prank calls or individuals who abused the number for non-emergency purposes. One fire station personnel mentioned that their own unit would receive around thirty false calls a day. As the number was toll-free, some callers (including a few respondents) were found to call the hotline with no true purpose for assistance and to occupy the line when it could be need by genuine calls of emergency assistance. The network congestion built from much of the misuse of the hotline reduces the efficiency of the network. In summary, the emergency hotlines that were designed to provide rapid response to emergency victims, have not produced an effective program for rural Ghanaians. 2.2.5 Alternative Emergency Communication Response Strategies

As a result of the abused emergency hotlines, emergency services and citizens have found alternative strategies to utilize their mobile phones for assistance. The provision of personal mobile phone numbers, paying for calls as confirmation tactics, and face-to-face communication were the main response strategies to emergencies in Winneba. Some emergency service personnel in the field study would provide their personal mobile phone numbers to their community members. The community members were given the opportunity to contact the personnel directly in case of an emergency. These citizens have also mentioned storing the numbers of police officers and fire service staff and have been given the concession to call the emergency service provider in case of an emergency. Most respondents who did store and who called the personal mobile phone numbers of police staff received quick assistance. Many of those in the lower income fishing community also had stored the mobile phone numbers of police. The fact that the police training academy was beside the fishing community may have helped the reason for all having police contacts in their mobile phone directory. The citizen thus bypassed the ineffective intermediary system (emergency service dispatcher on the hotline) in order to receive more direct communication for assistance.

One fire service staff member mentioned that he would ask the caller to make the phone call again on the fire department’s landline. While the toll-free line has no charge, a call to the fire department’s direct regional line would cost money to the person requiring emergency assistance. This ensured the fire staff that the caller was genuine as he or she was willing to pay the cost of call to the department’s landline. The staff member believed that this cost test eliminated those prank nonemergency calls.

Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-125-

Another strategy taken by some respondents during an emergency was simply to proceed directly in person to the fire station or police station by foot or by car to report their emergency case. Many fire emergencies that were reported to the station had come from those persons who had just passed a major accident. The ongoing belief in the community was that ambulance service was more costly and much slower in arriving to the scene of an accident than regular public transport. Instead, respondents stated calling private taxis for their service to and from hospital or police stations during emergencies. Some fire staff also received community members knocking his door at night who are asking for assistance for a fire outbreak. Christal (29, receptionist) reported her perception: “you call the police and they would think that it is not serious or you are just calling them for fun. But when you go physically, they know that it is very critical so they have to make contact.” Again, engaging personally with officials authenticated their emergencies and allowed the person to bypasses the free, but ineffective hotline system. The three strategies of physical visits to emergency services, requesting the caller to phone the landline and asking community members to call the personal phone lines of the police and fire station staff were undertaken in Winneba as a result of a poorly managed emergency service hotline. 3. TOWARDS A MORE EFFICIENT SYSTEM OF EMERGENCY RESPONSES IN RURAL COMMUNITIES

The availability of mobile phones has certainly improved the speed of response and coping strategies of citizens in Winneba during an emergency. Citizens have seen more rapid response to emergencies much due to the improved flow of information. Dramatic savings in terms of response time can be achieved in disseminating critical information and in updating family members of the event. This can help to reduce anxiety experienced by loved ones who are distant and unable to travel to the scene of the emergency. The mobile phone also lowered the need and costs (taxi, wait time, meals, and security) for a messenger to travel to the remote relatives to deliver the messages from victims of the emergency. The ability to quickly call upon taxi drivers or friends of the local police department with a mobile phone has been an extraordinary change in cost and time for Winneba.

While personal community contacts were most favorable to those citizens with emergency service “friends”, others were left at a disadvantage. There would be many rural citizens who do not know its
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9 -126-

local emergency personnel and are thus excluded from service delivery. In Winneba, most students were transient and came from other remote parts of Ghana to live temporarily on the campus. Most will thus be unaware of the local emergency staff and thus their personal contact information. Such asymmetrical information hardly provided equal access to emergency services.

In order to alleviate such uneven access to emergency services, Ghanaian government implemented the emergency hotlines; these hotlines are short-coded toll free numbers to ensure that anyone regardless of income status or situation are able to reach emergency services without delay or cost. But the system appeared to have not produced an effective program for rural Ghanaians especially in Winneba. As the emergency system has not delivered the assistance one would expect from a hotline, citizens have lost faith in such communication systems, expecting quality service when they are most vulnerable. In summary, mobile phones have improved the speed and effectiveness of communication during emergency response, but emergency hotline services like the one implemented in Ghana reinforced practices that promoted unequal communication access particularly those unknown to their local emergency facilities. 3.1 Recommendations

Our findings suggest an efficient alternative for interacting with emergency services in rural villages. This ‘revolution’ has been spontaneous and adapted according to the citizen’s preferences and not predetermined. Here we suggest a number of options for upgrading this revolution.

Firstly, national policies need to shift towards mobile phones as tools in providing the avenues for emergency services. To date, emergency services policies have failed to implement effective services to its citizens and thus been riddled by misuse, abuse, and congestion. Currently, little enforcement on the abusive calls received through the toll-free emergency hotline has crippled its intended use. Whether the callers are just testing the line or acting out of boredom, such actions should be reprimanded in order to lower the waste of communication resources. On the supply side, poor management of these hotlines and outdated technology are part of the failure of the system. Emergency services continue to wait for the upgrade installation to their system which includes “malicious call trace,” allowing the operator to track the callers to their location. At the same time,

Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-127-

police enforcement need to work hand in hand to prosecute those who heavily abuse this hotline system.

The ineffective system is also coupled with poor awareness of emergency numbers. Government and citizens need to work within their local communities and schools through ongoing awareness programs on emergency communication procedures. Improving outreach relationships between the local community and their local emergency service facilities are imperative in order to lower hotline abuse. This includes the equal distribution of all phone numbers of the emergency services from hotlines, office lines to personal contact numbers. Secondly, government could work together with mobile phone service providers to help improve the hotline system access, both through sponsorship of emergency hotline education programs as well as additional access to or recruitment of operators and systems. Lastly, it is necessary to provide a monitoring and evaluation system, in regards to emergency service operations. Reports could be released to the public on a more regular basis as part of the education program. Mobile phone service providers could work with government on such feedback mechanisms for emergency response. Such an evaluation process is pro-active and overall improves the effectiveness in assisting the most vulnerable in need.

4. CONCLUSION

Mobile phones continue to make impact in unexpected areas, certainly in the emergency responses ‘sector’. Traditionally, local rural communities receive little assistance in resolving acute emergencies. Some African governments have attempted to implement emergency hotline numbers to facilitate a rapid response to emergency situations, but in most cases, these numbers remain unknown to, and unused by, many rural citizens. A further problem with these free numbers is that abusive prank calls are made to the emergency call centers which tie up hotlines and fatigue emergency service dispatchers.

In rural areas, emergencies are thus resolved using alternative local mechanisms and adapted practices mediated through available technologies. However, local mechanisms may lead to various barriers such as potentially asymmetrical emergency information to a certain population and can remain on a “who-you-know” basis. Individuals who are new to an area or those disadvantaged with
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-128-

poor social networks are limited to time-consuming and costly options for assistance during emergencies. In order to improve development practice in the context of the issues discussed above, there is a need for communities to explore awareness programs on emergency communication procedures as well as to improve outreach relationships with the local community and their local emergency service facilities. This approach entertains the view that appropriate technologies and training could be far more useful in facilitating emergency cases in rural areas.

Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-129-

REFERENCES Aristotle (1994 [350 B.C.E.]) Nicomachean Ethics, Translated by W. D. Ross, The Internet Classics Archive, MIT Media Lab. Benard, Privatization of Telecommunications http://www.lm3global.com/ltc_privatize_article.pdf. 16th May 2009 L. (2004). A Case for in Liberia.

Bertolini, R (2004). Making Information and Communication Technologies Work for Food Security in Africa. 2020 Africa Conference Brief 1. International Food Policy Research Institute; Washington. Gillwald, A. and Stork, C. (2008). Towards Evidence-based ICT Policy and Regulation: ICT Access and Usage in Africa. Volume One 2008 Policy Paper Two.

http://www.researchictafrica.net/new/images/uploads/ria-policy-paper_ict-access-and-usage-2008.pdf
17 May 2009 Heeks, R. and Molla, A. (2009). Impact Assessment of ICT-for-Development Projects: A Compendium of Approaches. IDPM Working Paper. 36/2009.

http://www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/idpm/research/publications/wp/di/di_wp36.htm
Howitz, R. and Currie, W. (2007). Another Instance where privatization trumped liberalization: the politics of telecommunications reform in South Africa – A Ten Year Retrospective. http://web.si.umich.edu/tprc/papers/2007/778/SA%20Telecoms%20HorwitzCurrie.pdf 16 May 2009. Heeks, R. and Jagun, A. (2007). Mobile Phones and Development: The future in new hands? id21 insights 69 l September 2007. Institute of Development Studies University of Sussex, Brighton International Telecommunications Union (2009). Measuring the Information Society: The ICT Development Index. http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi/2009/material/IDI2009_w5.pdf 20 May 2009. International Telecommunications Union. (2007). ITU World Telecommunication / ITU Indicators Database.

http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/ict/index.html 16 May 2009
International Telecommunication Union. (2004). Has Africa’s ICT Renaissance Begun?

http://www.itu.int/AFRICA2004/media/renaissance.html 18 May 2009
Scott, N.; Batchelor, S.; Ridley, J.; and Jorgensen, B. (2004). The Impact of Mobile Phones in Africa. Prepared for the Commission of Africa. http://www.commissionforafrica.org/english/report/background/scott_et_al_background.pdf. 16th May 2009 Ukeje, C. (2005). Rethinking Africa’s Security in the Age of Uncertain Globalisation: NEPAD and Human Security in the 21st Century. Paper submitted to the 11th CODESRIA General Assembly, Maputo, Mozambique, 6-10 December, 2005 on the theme: Rethinking African Development: Beyond Impasse, Towards Alternative. Vodafone, (2004). Impact of Mobile Phones in the developing world.

http://www.vodafone.com/etc/medialib/attachments/cr_downloads.Par.97534.File.tmp/SIM_Project_d ownload_3.pdf. 16th May 2009
Sen, Amartya (1999) Commodities and Capabilities, Oxford University Press, New York.
Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9 -130-

Ushahidi. (2009). Ushahidi blog. http://www.ushahidi.com/about 17 May 2009

Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009 978-0-620-45037-9

-131-

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful