As I started to work on updating this site news began to come through yesterday of the tragic earthquake in Nepal which has affected so many in Kathmandu, across the whole country and in neighbouring countries. Kathmandu was my home for 8 years, and I have many friends there, who treat me as part of their family.
Naturally as the full scale of the devastation became evident I felt truly shocked and concerned to get news of my friends. As I sat at home in UK in many ways I felt powerless to do anything, but nevertheless through the power of new communications technologies I found myself engaged, and surprisingly in touch with the situation on the ground in Kathmandu.
Within a few minutes of having posted a concerned message on Facebook, I got messages back from Nepali friends in Kathmandu who told me they were alright, but on the streets and scared as they endured so many aftershocks. It was such a relief to hear from them, and interestingly it was the sons and daughters of the Nepali’s I knew best who were doing the communicating, and I was reflecting how teenagers and young people in most places these days are so at home with mobile technology, and how great it was that there were means of communication for those most affected by the crisis. Despite the broken roads, landslides and buildings reduced to rubble, the mobile phone network somehow in many places was still up and running and helping people trying to respond to the situation.
A further example of this came when I realised that the son of a close friend in UK was volunteering at a Nepali school in Lamjung, right at the epicentre of the quake. When I called the family to check all was okay they had not heard the news, and were naturally in a state of distress when I told them. They had the name of the village but no contact number for their son. With the help of the internet, I found out the school name and contact information but when they called the phone was completely dead which further increased their anxiety. Amazingly I got through to friends in Kathmandu by international phone and explained the situation. They were able to receive an email from me with details and within an hour replied with the good news that they had spoken by mobile with a lady at the school and the young volunteer was okay, and people at the school were safe. A few hours later his parents received a text message from him which confirmed his wellbeing.
The coming days and months will no doubt be very tough ones for all those living and working in Nepal, but as we consider the role of digital technology and its uses for development, I thought it was worth sharing these reflections on what happened yesterday. I cannot get the images of devastation out of my mind, but I am more convinced than ever that ICTs can play a big and positive role (locally and internationally) in both the response to disaster and in longer term development efforts needed globally to address poverty and suffering.