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Disaster Relief Through Sahana
Taran Rampersad, 24 Jan 05

After writing 'Coding From The Ground Up In Sri Lanka', I've been keeping up with developments of the Sahana project through the project email list and Sanjiva Weerawarana's Blog. Some interesting things have happened - including cooperation with the United Nations.

But - as Jamais asked me after the first article - 'What does it do?'

Sahana is a collection of integrated applications which handle an increasing amount of functionality.

  • Organization registry: To keep track of various organizations participating and what they do / can do etc.
  • Request management system: To allow coordination of how requests from camps and other places are serviced by various organizations.
  • Camp registry: Database of camps, including historical information.
  • People registry: Database of missing, IDPs, dead, orphans etc. (including pictures, finger prints, DNA samples) with advanced search capabilities
  • New Functions Under Development
    • Assistance management system: To keep track of offers of assistance and their acceptance.
    • Damage database: To record damage for various purposes.
    • Burial registry:To record burial site information (locations, people etc.)
    • Logistics management system: To keep track of delivery and receipt of relief and other aid (Existing components also being improved in function).
- excerpt from here.

Now that Sahana is in operation, the role of data collecting has come into the fore. As Sanjiva notes:

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the amazing group of young people who work in the government organization called the "Human Disaster Management Center" .. they are the ones who are criss-crossing the country to get the actual data from the various divisional secretaries and bring them to Colombo. They're our source of data; without them we would have a database without any data...

...AFAIK none of the other countries affected by this Tsunami have been able to pull off this kind of an effort and the people who did the hard work of writing the software, putting it all together and now typing the data in all deserve some publicity and recognition.

Sanjiva's right, of course - everyone who pulled together in this Sri Lankan effort deserves recognition. And it goes beyond a group of dedicated FLOS hackers in Sri Lanka - and through the fires and pressures of what Sanjiva terms Relief Software Politics, it looks like a diamond may have emerged.

IBM, Cisco and Microsoft (despite some problems with XP licenses) all chipped in with hardware and software - and software licenses when needed.

Two Simputers were donated by Amida Simputer with the source for a crime scene investigation data gathering system for them. This allows for portable solutions on the ground, and with USB wireless or Wired ethernet card ability, sharing the information with the central database becomes easy.

Deployment related activities have been and continue to be coordinated by the ICT Agency and University of Moratuwa, IT Faculty. These activities are operations, help desk, and administration.

While the rest of the world has moved on, for the most part, the Sahana team has made something that will last and has the capacity to help in future - and even present - disasters. We often hear discussion about how cost-effective Free Software and Open Source (FOSS) are, and regard them in a business sense - but here the true value is apparent. But this is bigger than a FOSS discussion, this is about people helping each other in a time of need.

And creating an artefact that can be adapted to future situations. Hats off to everyone involved on the Sahana project. We all hope we won't need it, but it's good to know that now there is something there where before there was nothing of note.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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What about "mind software" for cooperation? Open Space Technology (Harrison Owen)?

"Let's meet in a circle (the geometry of cooperation and respect) and spark off passion and responsability".

Posted by: lugon on 24 Jan 05

Cool, I'll have to check out that link. Thanks.

Posted by: Taran on 24 Jan 05



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