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How Ericsson restored Internet in Nepal

The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal killed 9,000 people, caused more than 23,000 injuries, and destroyed entire villages. Many of the initial responses to the aftermath of the first earthquake occurred on social media. In particular, Facebook turned on its Safety Check feature, which allowed survivors to provide updates on their whereabouts and the conditions of others nearby. The necessity of reliable communication systems immediately became apparent. Within 24 hours, Ericsson Response was deployed to help restore internet access for humanitarian aid workers.

“I’ve been doing emergency work for nearly twenty years, both in the government and in the UN. I’ve rarely seen a communications capacity restored as quickly and as effectively as we’ve done it here in Nepal.” 
- Richard Ragan, Emergency Coordinator Nepal, World Food Programme

Within moments of the news of the earthquake, I noticed the immediacy of the “safety check” response generated by concerned friends in my social media network. This was the first time I had noticed this feature and made me consider the role of newer technologies in response to large scale crises.

First, digital and cellular networks accelerate time itself, by allowing aid responses to be quicker than ever before. Not only does the internet document the messages and actions of relief responders, but it also provides historical accounts and maps that can be used as case studies to better prepare and strategize for future crisis response activities.

Concurrently, it gives Nepali citizens the ability to represent themselves individually without the intervention of the government and/or the military, which were both in disarray and unable to respond effectively. Essentially, technologies act as a prime mediator in gaining access to resources elsewhere and empowering local NGOs and community members on the ground.

Another outcome is that mobile phones give survivors new ways to cope. In the past, aid workers and community members had to scope out the situation intuitively, which can lead to delays and overlooked areas. This likely prolonged and worsened the trauma of survivors who may have felt marooned.  Now, survivors can reach out relatively quickly and ask for help.

Technologies also provide a space to rebuild social and cultural infrastructures destroyed by the earthquake.

It’s clear that digital media changes how people interact with governments and their environments in the wake of natural disasters. But questions remain. How do survivors and community members rebuild following such trauma? And how does digital technology facilitate this? As technology becomes more integrated into the lives of Nepalis, how does it figure into the future of Nepal, particularly as they grasp the potential of a new constitution that went into effect September 20, 2015?