Despite living in Chicago, more than 6,000 miles from his native Syria, Zaher Sahloul, a doctor, has been helping to treat patients in his war-torn country. In the US, he used social media to organize medical supplies and donations worth more than US$ 5 million from the Syrian diaspora, uploaded videos in Arabic to YouTube that give advice to physicians inside Syria, and used a barcode system to track medical supplies to Syria.
Sahloul has been able to communicate with medical personnel on the ground thanks to internet systems engineers like Dishad Othman, who works with Internews, an international NGO. Othman, a Syrian who was forced to flee, has helped to establish encryption tools and virtual private network accounts, to create secure ways for Syrians inside the country to communicate via the internet.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 24 April 2013, is another testament to the use of information and communication technologies – here, cell phones – as a tool for post-disaster recovery. While searching through the rubble, civilian rescuer Saydia Gulrukh noticed that many of the victims died clutching identity cards and cell phones.
Gulrukh says this can be tied to another factory disaster in November 2012, where a fire tore through the Tazreen garment factory, also in Dhaka, killing more than 100 people. Government estimates of the missing were low, in part because many families had no records of their loved ones, making it difficult for them to claim bodies and prove that they qualified for benefits.