Mobile tech bolsters humanitarian support

Rebecca Gredley
(Australian Associated Press)


Humanitarian groups are hopeful a mobile phone technology will transform their ability to deliver urgent support to Pacific communities grappling with natural disasters and health crises.

Save the Children is using the technology to send a total of $6.6 million to about 4000 Fijian households struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The aid is the largest humanitarian cash transfer in Fiji’s history and is the result of donations from a handful of international citizens who wish to remain anonymous.

Save the Children Australia boss Paul Ronalds says the mobile technology has the ability to transform how communities are helped in the aftermath of a disaster.

“Once the families have been identified and the systems set up, payments can be replicated and expanded again and again, depending on the needs, donors and evolving situation,” he said.

“Not only do payments of this nature enable those affected by disasters to buy the things they need, but it supports local markets and businesses, stimulating the economy.”

Save the Children worked with local non-government organisations to identity households most in need of support, with payments to be sent four monthly months.

The technology, Vodafone’s M-PAiSA platform, allows for money to be sent to a mobile phone even if it’s not a smartphone.

A text message tells recipients funds have been transferred to their phone, and they can then use the money to make payments, transfer it or take cash out using codes or voice prompts.

Although technology can be damaged by natural disasters, restoring mobile networks is usually a priority for governments.

Aid groups have previously given cash or vouchers, which can be difficult when support is needed in areas that are hard to reach.

Boss of Save the Children’s Fijian arm Shairana Ali said the digital method allowed support to quickly reach the most vulnerable.

“Our expertise in cash transfers and Vodafone’s huge reach across Fiji means families are feeling the relief they desperately need during these trying times,” she said.

Last June, the Australian government-funded Market Development Facility used the mobile platform to support Fijian small businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Although Fiji’s virus case numbers have remained low, international travel restrictions have slammed the Pacific nation because its economy relies heavily on tourism.

Save the Children is also urging the federal government to help Pacific nations develop and implement a wage subsidy program similar to JobKeeper.

Remote Fijian islands were also recently hit by Tropical Cyclone Yasa which damaged and destroyed thousands of homes, along with schools and other infrastructure.

The Australian military is currently assisting rebuilding efforts.


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