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Mobilizing Relief Aid

Dutch Bangla Bank Limited (DBBL) recently kicked off a pilot program in cooperation with the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) in Bangladesh, where over 200 beneficiaries will receive food aid via DBBL mobile banking.

That is, Bangladeshis will receive aid money in a mobile account on their mobile devices, and be able to use it to buy food from local merchants. Similar to other WFP mobile-based assistance programs (such as those in Niger and Zambia), this method of distribution provides assistance to people in need while also adding funds to the local economy.

Is mobile the new medium for distributing disaster aid?

After Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, the country’s mobile phone network was the first network to come back online. Many aid organizations used mobile to find survivors, collect donations (The American Red Cross collected $7 million in 24 hours by allowing people to donate $10 with a text message.), and share information about food supplies, shelter, medical facilities, keeping sanitary and other important topics.

A similar story arose out of Japan last year, following the earthquake and tsunami. Mobile donations poured in from around the world. People living in Japan checked in with family and friends through social media on their mobiles, and were able to receive public service announcements and other important information.

As mobile devices and mobile money become more widespread, it’s easy to imagine a future where aid agencies choose the mobile channel for their organization, collection and distribution efforts first, for its lower costs (no transportation or physical distribution points required), better privacy, higher security, and most important—its immediacy.

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