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Cellphone data can help in disasters

  |   Aug. 31, 2011 at 10:04 PM
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Swedish and U.S. researchers say cellphones can track population movements in the wake of disasters to help deliver humanitarian aid to the right places.

During the 2010 earthquake and ensuing cholera epidemic in Haiti, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Columbia University monitored the continual movements of 2 million mobile phones and reported directly to the humanitarian relief organizations on the ground, a Karolinsika release said Wednesday.

The method may have a major impact on future disaster relief, the researchers said.

"This is a huge problem, but by using data supplied by mobile phone operators, we now have a good chance of charting the movements of populations in disaster situations," Linus Bengtsson, doctoral student at Karolinska Institutet who led the development of the method, said.

After the Haiti earthquake, there were reports of large migrations of people out of the capital Port-au-Prince, and the researchers sought the cooperation of Digicel, the largest mobile phone operator in Haiti, to monitor the daily movements of 2 million cellphones by analyzing anonymous data on which mobile phone towers were used to make calls.

They then reported the results to the United Nations and other aid organizations working in Haiti.

"Our work was very much appreciated by the aid organizations on the ground, and we believe that the method can bring about important improvements in humanitarian relief and development cooperation," Bengtsson said.

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