Earthquakes in Peru: How Technology Can Help

Peru is situated next to the ‘Ring of Fire’, an area in the Pacific Ocean with a string of volcanoes product of tectonic plates that are constantly moving producing seismic activity. Almost 90% of earthquakes in the world happen around the Ring of Fire. In the last 50 years, there have been at least 5 big earthquakes in Peru, with a magnitude 8 and over in the Richter scale, and many other less devastating ones. The last major one was during 2007, but still today you can find its ravages in the city of Pisco. The city has never been the same after the earthquake.

It has been a while since we have had a strong earthquake, so experts are expecting to have one anytime soon. Everyone is talking now about prevention and the importance of it, which is good. But what about response?

Currently we are not well prepared to respond to an earthquake of big magnitude. We don’t have the processes or tools in place, neither a designed strategy for the crucial post disaster hours. In the earthquake of 2007, many donations never reached the designated place and were either lost or sold by corrupt officers.

That is where technology and the civil society come in the picture. During the class of Technology for International and Crisis Response, I discovered interesting tools that have been used to overcome the struggles after devastating earthquakes. OpenStreetMap is a crowdsourcing effort to map areas in advance, so that the information is available online when a disaster struck. It highlights the power many small efforts can have when you put them together. Google Person Finder, where people from any part of the world can help locating missing persons with a simple google search tool. During post disaster hours the internet could be gone, but people seating in another part can receive text messages and do the google search for someone else in the disaster zone. Finally, there’s so much local governments and NGO’s could learn from Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) and their use of ICT to face emergencies and provide an effective response, like implementing TSF’s ‘office in a box’ equipment. Also, encourage the private sector to work collaboratively with the government to invest in technology infrastructure for crisis response. This examples show how by using technology and creativity, a disaster response can become (at least) someway easier.

In Peru, we should start talking more about disaster response, get inspiration from technologies that have already worked in another country, and adapt them to the specific challenges of the Peruvian environment and culture. Nevertheless, just with technology the problem will not be solved. We need to change the mindset of people before a disaster happens, encourage collaboration, and avoid corruption. Is this an easy challenge? Of course not, but with the help of technology we can start a change, and hopefully when difficult times come, we will be better prepared to recover and improve the life of affected people.

This blog post was originally submitted by Lucia del Pilar Haro, as part of her participation in the Columbia SIPA course “Technology for International Crisis Response” led by TechChange founder Nick Martin. Featured image source: Los Andes Argentina