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Coding From The Ground Up In Sri Lanka.
Taran Rampersad, 11 Jan 05

While there has been much made of the ARC project (and it's halt and continued evolution), there's another project which is saving lives right now in tsunami affected areas - and it's called Sahana. This is Sahana's hour to shine, and shine it should.

The developers of Sahana are so busy that the best description that can be had is - it's software being used in a disaster situation by NGOs, and it is continuously being evolved on demand in an Open Source fashion. The most information I have been able to gleen so far is that Sanjiva Weerawarana, in Sri Lanka, is one of the main people involved. At present, the project page on SourceForge.net simply states:

Crisis, for example natural disasters, management software; including refugee camp management, supply/demand match making, lost persons, etc.

There's no doubt that the requirements are coming in and the software is being reactively written. There's also no doubt that this same software may be useful over a wider area, and that perhaps people with Java and PHP skills may be of use. The pressure is on for these developers; they have done what so many others failed to do before the crisis. They have created something that works, and are continuously improving it as they get updates from the people using it - and the people it is affecting.

The trials and tribulations (some excerpts here) within Sanjiva's weblog are a testament to grace under pressure - getting things done when many people are busy talking - and the support received from IBM, Microsoft and Cisco. For some odd reason, though, IBM wasn't able to obtain 15 Windows XP licenses for the notebooks they donated toward the development effort.

So corporations - even Microsoft - are working toward an Open Source solution for the real problems being faced by survivors of the latest tsunami. And because it's Open Source, it can be used in a much wider area.

While some systems are being worked on for communication in future disasters, it's important that such heroic efforts as these do not remain unnoticed. Sometimes the best help we can give isn't money, clothing or water.

Even now, good things are coming from this last disaster - and because this particular project is Open Source, it's here to stay - available to anyone - and there's absolutely no excuse for it to not be used, supported and evolved.

Solutions that can come into being by concerned people around the world seems to be the ongoing theme of this last disaster. There's a lesson in this theme; the question is if whether the students are paying attention.

If you wish to help, by all means take a look at the Sahana Project and see how you can help - but please don't hinder the developers either. What they are doing can mean the difference between life and death.

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