Burundi: Handheld Computers Speed Up Food Aid

Published on allAfrica.com, by Zack Baddorf, Oct. 6, 2010.

Bujumbura — Aid organisations say a small handheld computer will allow them to more rapidly assess where food aid is needed most urgently. As a result, fewer Burundians will suffer hunger this year.

Fifteen years of civil war, combined with extreme poverty, a fragile political process and recurrent natural disasters like floods and droughts, have caused a drastic increase in poverty and hunger in the central African nation.  

Only 28 percent of Burundians have enough food to eat, and more than half of the population is chronically malnourished, according to the United Nation’s World Food Programme WFP.

WFP plans to distribute 3.7 million tonnes of food to 90 million people in 73 countries in 2010, including Burundi. To determine how best to allocate the available resources, the international organisation conducts food surveys in each country.

“Usually, you’ll send out a monitor with lots of forms,” explains Marc Neilson, WFP public information officer in Burundi. “You simply jot down what residents say on paper, or you may have a questionnaire in paper form, and you check boxes as needed.”

But under a new WFP Burundi initiative, the answers to food assessments are now recorded directly on handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs), which are only a little larger than a cell phone. Since being introduced in March, they have held up against the strong Burundian heat and last for days before needing to be recharged … //

… Speedy evaluation:

WFP, which has been providing food aid in Burundi since 1968, is in the first phase of implementing the usage of PDAs. For now, information is saved on a memory card and sent to the main office in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura by car. But by the end of this year, fieldworkers will be able to transmit their findings wirelessly, using the country’s new hi-speed 3G wireless network, says Neilson.

A few months ago, Burundi’s telecommunication operators and regulator signed a $20 million project to install more than a thousand kilometres of fibre optic cable, which will enable bring broadband internet connectivity to the country. World Bank supports the project with a $10.5 million grant as part of its regional infrastructure programme.

If WFP sticks to its plans, Burundi’s poor and hungry will – indirectly – also benefit from the new wireless network, because they will receive food aid quicker than before. (full text).

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