Social networks proving key to disaster relief | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 12.11.2013
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Social networks proving key to disaster relief

The Philippines are wracked with suffering and destruction following Typhoon Haiyan. The country needs urgent help, and online social networks are playing an important role in providing it.

Horrific images from the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan have appeared around the world. At least 10,000 people are thought to have been killed in the Philippines, and thousands more are still missing, and it has proved extremely difficult for friends and family to make contact with one another. Many people don't know whether their loved ones have survived - and if so where they are. 11. November 2013

A screenshot of Google's person finder

Social networks and other Internet services have played a decisive part in overcoming these difficulties in the snowballing humanitarian crisis - in finding missing people, in the coordination of help on the ground, and the collection of donations.

Searching for the missing

Google has started a "Person Finder" website, where missing people can be registered. Anyone with information about someone can use it to help those searching. Nearly 50,000 people have already been entered.

Messages have also been left on Twitter by people searching for loved ones, usually with photos and information about where they were last seen.

In order to collect such tweets, Patrick Meier, a Swiss national who works for the Qatar Foundation, has started the site "MicroMappers," where volunteers can sort through tweets and put them in categories.

As well as the search for the missing, tweets are put into categories like "Requests for Help" and "Infrastructure Damage," or "Population Displacement." The collected data is then sent to the United Nations. 11. November 2013

A screenshot of MicroMappers

On the ground

Meanwhile, the Twitter account @Typhoonhaiyan has been conceived as a central platform to support victims of the typhoon. The makers of the site, the organizations "Backspace News," "Asia Centria," and "Newsgon," provide Twitter users with a list of hashtags to help organize the micro-messages.

The hashtag #RescuePH, for example, is only meant to be used by people who urgently need help on the ground. This doesn't always work, however, as some users have caused confusion by tweeting messages with the hashtag:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>No matter what is thrown at your country, above all I know you guys have the spirit to pull through <a href=";src=hash">#RescuePH</a> stay safe everyone x</p>&mdash; Sophie Sumner (@sophiesumner8) <a href="">November 9, 2013</a></blockquote>
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In order to improve coordination, Google has created a "Crisis Map" in cooperation with the Philippine government, where evacuation centers, hospitals, and emergency help points can be marked.

Worldwide calls for help

Major international aid organizations have been using social networks to call for help for the typhoon victims worldwide. The German Red Cross is one of many to have posted a call for donations on its Facebook page.

Campaigners are hoping that this effort will create a similar wave of solidarity to the one that followed the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, when almost 700 million euros ($937 million) was raised in Germany alone.

The Internet, and social networks in particular, have proved to be an effective tool in coordinating efforts and coping with the desperate need for immediate help following natural disasters.

And, in the meantime, major religions have also discovered the power of the Internet to make contact with their "Followers." Following the typhoon, Pope Francis tweeted:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>I ask all of you to join me in prayer for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda especially those in the beloved islands of the Philippines</p>&mdash; Pope Francis (@Pontifex) <a href="">November 9, 2013</a></blockquote>
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