The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated and disputed territories on earth. Only, 365km squared, it’s home to 1.6 million people, nearly 70% of whom are refugees. Gaza is subject to intense political, social, and economic volatility. It suffers frequent outbreaks of violence, enforced blockades and closures to its critical institutions. Power cuts are increasingly common, wiping out communications and media infrastructure, meaning that obtaining actionable information during a crisis is very difficult. Unemployment is currently running at 50%. Four out of every five people living there require humanitarian assistance. Access to the internet is highly unreliable and there is no 3G network. Consequently, all developmental services running through mobile must make creative use of SMS and IVR platforms to meet the unique challenges that citizens face.
In 2011, UNESCO staff in Gaza recruited Souktel to create an SMS alert/survey system that warns parents and their children of any danger happening near local schools. The service forms a key part of UNESCO’s Crisis and Disaster Risk Reduction project, which aims to ensure that schools are secure community spaces. Specifically, at each school, principals and teachers are given password-protected access to a web interface, where they can send SMS alerts to all parents’ mobile phones. In an emergency, staff can write customized messages warning parents to keep their children at home; once the violence has ended they’re able to send a follow-up message indicating that students can return to the classroom. Because Internet can be unreliable in times of crisis, the system can also be managed via PIN-protected SMS commands on mobile handsets. In this case, a teacher might unlock the phone, access appropriate student phone number list, type a message and hit “send.” In total, 29 schools were targeted for this project, with more than 11,700 students benefiting from this service.
In this video we interview Souktel project staff, Derek Elias, head of the UNESCO office, Ramallah, and school principals and parents of students within Gaza itself to discover how the service works and to learn more of its effect on pupils and school in this troubled region.