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Amidst the deluge of ridiculous news about the “Ground Zero Mosque,” I haven’t heard much about the devastating flood in Pakistan.

The flood, which hit three weeks ago, has inundated one-fifth of the country. The estimates of the number of people affected range from 6 to 14 million – which, despite the drastic difference, doesn’t change the fact that millions of people have been touched by the  natural disaster. The most recent estimate of number of people dead was 1,600, but this number will surely rise as humanitarian aid workers continue to trickle in.

And “trickle” is right. Compared to other recent tragedies – Haiti and the Gulf Coast oil spill – there has been very little media attention and even less aid coming from the West. Where’s the barrage of text donation messages on facebook? Where are the humanitarian ads? Why are we not hearing more about ways to donate to the people of Pakistan?

Some have attributed the relatively lackluster donation effort to western perceptions of Pakistan as a country that is home to terrorists. According to a June CNN poll, 78% of Americans had unfavorable attitudes about Pakistan.

Sadly, these unfavorable perceptions and fears of terrorism may in fact be keeping people away. (I have a lot to say on that matter, but I’ll save it for later.) However, I think the bigger reason is that media coverage has been so little, and humanitarian orgs are not stepping up to build buzz around this.

I know people may be fatigued by all the humanitarian issues out there, but if it’s as simple as sending a text for $5 or $10, why not? Shit, I spent $10 on dinner last night.

Below are some text donation options from mGive Foundation, an org that specializes in mobile technology for philanthropy. Please consider contributing:

  • For Central Asia Institute, text the word CAI to 50555 to give $10. Central Asia Institute provides community-based education opportunities in Pakistan & Afghanistan.
  • For CHF International, text the word PAKISTAN to 50555 to give $5. CHF International will provide transitional shelter, create livelihoods, and ultimately re-build Pakistan’s economic and social foundations.
  • For Islamic Society of North America, text the word RELIEF to 27722 to give $10. The Islamic Society of North America contributes to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large.
  • For UNHCR, text the word SWAT to 50555 to give $10. UNHCR emergency response teams are distributing tents, relief supplies, and humanitarian assistance to people displaced by the flooding.
  • For World Food Programme USA, text the word AID to 27722 to give $10. WFP will use helicopters to transport food to people in isolated communities across the Swat Valley.
  • For World Emergency Relief, text the word RESCUE to 50555 to give $10. Rescue Task Force is a San Diego County based non-profit relief agency that responds to natural and man-made disasters world-wide.
  • For Zakat Foundation of America, text the work ZAKATUS to 50555 to give $10. Zakat Foundation has begun to address the immediate needs of flood survivors by providing food and clothing in four key Pakistani districts.

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Today is Agent Orange Day, a day to honor the millions of people in Vietnam who are still living with the harmful effects of Agent Orange. It’s unbelievable that something that happened over 35 years ago can have an impact on children born today. While there are several organizations working to clean up the environment and provide healthcare and education to people who have been affected, much more needs to be done.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, this is a somewhat buried issue. Most people in the U.S. are entirely unaware that Agent Orange is still a problem. It seems like such a relic of the past; it’s hard to imagine that it’s still relevant. In fact, Vogue recently titled one of their trend reports “Agent Orange,” and went in detail about all the hot shades of orange that are in for the Fall. Obviously, the editors didn’t realize that this was still a gravely persistent issue; otherwise they would’ve realized what a tasteless move it was to greenlight that column title.

As part of an effort to highlight the hard work being done to address this humanitarian problem – and inspire people to get involved – my org recently launched a facebook profile pic app to encourage people to adopt the Agent Orange Day badge and change their profile pics. I was inspired by this idea when during Iran’s Green Revolution many people around the world tinted their profile pics green to show their solidarity and support for the Iranian people.

Some have criticized this method, considering it very surfacey and ineffective. I beg to differ, however. For the people of Iran, who surely feel very alone in their struggle for freedom, it was encouraging and uplifting to see people showing their support in the most simple yet meaningful way. Further, the proliferation of green-tinted profile pics inevitably became a spark for greater awareness – that something was going on in Iran and it was important enough for hundreds of thousands of people to change their profile pictures.

Compared to traditional social justice tactics, I can see why this might seem somewhat insignificant. But the reality of our world is that these technologies are available to us, and that we cannot miss the opportunity of using them to get a message out – especially if it is for people who have been stripped of their voices. Further, people today are inundated with information from many different channels, so it will take a range of tactics to lift hidden issues out into broad daylight.

Today, over 200 people changed their profile pics on facebook in honor of Agent Orange Day. While this is just a small step, I can’t help but think of the hundreds of thousands of people who saw that badge and were compelled to click on the image to find out what the deal was. The more people who know about this issue, the more interest there will be to help the problem. It will take many of these small steps, but I really do believe that today we got one step closer to making Agent Orange history.

envy

Some people have mentioned to me that reading this blog is making them wish they had an iPhone. First off, I’m glad my posts are getting people interested and excited! But my purpose here isn’t really to show off or even to rave about how awesome the iPhone is. It’s more to spark the imagination about what’s possible – and specifically, how communications is evolving right before our eyes.

I’m not partial to any particular smartphone (okay, well, maybe a little bit). There are so many out there and a lot of them come with a lot of unique advantages. The Evo has an awesome big screen. The Blackberry has IM. The Android is the fastest growing smartphone in the market, and it recently hit 1 billion app downloads in the Android Market.

And even if you don’t have a smartphone, no worries. Currently, only 17% of American cell phone owners are using smartphones. But according to eMarketer’s July 2010 Top Picks, that percentage is projected to grow steadily over the next few years, with 49% of us using smartphones by the end of 2011.

So… even for the self-proclaimed late adopters, I think change might be inevitable.

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Speaking of using technology to reach people in remote areas, I just came across this story about how mobile technology is being used to bring healthcare information, farming techniques and even K-12 education to people all over Africa. According to the article, between 2003 and 2008, Africa had the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. And analysts don’t seem to indicate that this trend will subside.

Read the whole article here.

If you’ve read some of my past posts, you would know that I have somewhat of an obsession with geolocation. In fact, it’s probably what I love the most about smartphones.

So, naturally, a recent article about virtual mapping in Haiti totally caught my eye. It was seven months ago that the earthquake hit and the country is still struggling to get basic systems – like sanitation and water – back on track. Despite the large amount of donations that were poured into relief efforts, it is still difficult to determine where services are still needed – especially in more remote areas.

So a new website, developed by the anti-poverty coalition InterAction, in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, allows all NGOs working in Haiti to have a central place where they all log where they are working and providing services. By creating a place where all NGOs can upload their data (can be as simple as a spreadsheet), this technology allows for analysts to see where aid is already being delivered – and more importantly, where more aid is needed:

Clicking on the map, it’s easy to learn things like: large central cities such as Delmas, Port Au Prince and Carrefour have more than 100 water sanitation and hygiene relief projects, while the Southern city of Port Salut has just two. Yes, Port Salut was further from the epicenter of the earthquake. But it was still damaged badly enough that many of its communities still lack necessities and electricity…

The system uses geolocation technology to make realtime updates to the map. It’s not clear (at least not to me) how exactly the geolocation stuff works, but  it all sounds really cool – and it seems like an effective way to track the distribution of aid among dozens of NGOs. I hope this helps bring fast relief to the people of Haiti, especially the more neglected communities that need it most.

It was the talk of the town when, not too long after the launch of the iPhone 4, a string of complaints came out about really bad reception problems. Was the king of mobile slipping up?

As complaints grew, Apple rushed to address the problem. Now, almost a month later, they still haven’t come up with an actual solution. (Although one brilliant user came up with a creative solution using Livestrong wristbands.)

On Friday, Steve Jobs came out publicly to address the issue, admitting “we’re not perfect.” He acknowledged that it’s no good for a phone to lose reception when you hold it a certain way, and he assured users that they were working to address it right away. He also pointed out that it’s actually a very small fraction of his phones that suffer the problem, and it hasn’t really hindered sales in any way (3 million have already sold, and counting). Further, other smartphones have had similar reception issues in the past, so the problem is certainly not unique to Apple, according to Jobs.

He sweetened the deal by offering free cases to all to all iPhone 4 users and those who plan to buy in the near future. Definitely a nice gesture, but I can’t shake the stigma. I think I’ll wait it out.

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