OSS powers relief effort in Pakistan
South African relief agency, Gift of the Givers, is using open source software solutions to power its humanitarian relief efforts in earthquake-stricken Pakistan.
The humanitarian NGO, based in Pietermaritzburg, has worked in 22 countries providing more than R160-million worth of aid to regions as diverse as Niger, Iraq, Sudan, Bosnia and Kosovo. It hit headlines recently for being one the first international relief agencies to arrive in Pakistan and one of the only to take advanced medical specialists to the area.
IT manager, Yusuf Rajah, says open source technology has had a \”tremendous effect\” on its ability to contact specialists and respond in time to disasters.
\”The reason why we support OSS is not because it is free, but because it\’s adaptable and practical,\” says Rajah.
\”All desktops, including the server that we use, run on Linux,\” enthuses Rajah, who adds that it uses open source solutions such as VOIP program Asterisk and content management system Joomla. The organisation also uses an LDAP service with a PHP Web interface to manage a vast array of contacts, from funders, to volunteers, to those receiving aid.
Rajah says open source software allows NGOs to work the way they want to, not the way software developers want them to.
\”OSS use does depend on the type of NGO in question, but with free software, organisations have the ability to build a system which can grow as the NGO progresses. One can also tailor the software to suite the organisation\’s philosophy or to fit the environment,\” says Rajah.
He says besides disaster management and relief, Gift of the Givers wants to conduct a variety of programs that would benefit the community.
\”We want to set up a Linux LAN as well as a learning centre in Pietermaritzburg, so that people can explore the benefits of free software.\”
Meanwhile, Rajah says Linux enthusiasts in Pietermaritzburg recently created the Pietermaritzburg Linux Enthusiasts Group (PLEG). He says he was surprised by the amount of interest in open source in the area. \”There is a growing knowledge about Linux software and awareness is growing as well,â€ he said.
Although recognised internationally, Rajah says Gift of the Givers has a special focus on Africa, where there is widespread poverty and a lack of resources. â€œWe need to provide resources and the best way to do it is by empowering people through technology.â€