Georgia: Mobile technology for safe communities
Police patrol the village of Ditsi, 200 metres from the boundary with South Ossetia
anketa#a#non00b#wed1c#7d#pol24ngo2 – sent from the village of Ditsi in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia, this mysterious SMS means that no security incidents have happened in the last week, there was one crossing of the boundary with South Ossetia for celebrating a wedding, the community sense of security is seven on a scale of one to 10, the police patrolled 24 times, and NGOs two times.
Text messages like this one are the basis of a simple community safety network, established by local residents over the past two years.
Volunteers from each of the 16 villages along the boundary line with South Ossetia send weekly information to this text messaging service and report on incidents as they happen.
Within 30 minutes of an incident, information is relayed to relevant security providers, which allows for a prompt response by the police, other authorities and even international observers.
"We are too close to the boundary line," says local coordinator from Ditsi, Gela Mindiashvili. "Sometimes people cross it without even knowing, especially when they need to clean irrigation channels or find a wandering cow. A lot of farmers were detained by border guards just for collecting firewood in a nearby forest."
Following the August 2008 conflict in Georgia, communities living in the Shida Kartli region along the boundary with South Ossetia continued to face significant security challenges.
While the number of physical security incidents have significantly decreased over time, a number of security-related concerns and wider human security needs remain.
More than 650 incidents have been reported in Shida Kartli since January 2012, including:
In many cases, text messages sent out immediately after an incident have enabled a quick resolution of the issue, and restoration of the important sense of security.
"It took days before to let everyone know, find those detained and negotiate their return," says Ms. Mindiashvili. "But now we simply send an Elva text message and it immediately goes to the police and international observers."
The Georgian word elva means "lightning" or "express message," which is the name of the information sharing platform developed in 2011 by a Georgian NGO Caucasus Research Resource Centers and a British NGO Saferworld, with assistance from UNDP.
For over 1,000 farmers in Shida Kartli, Elva now means help and protection.
"Rapid access to information can save lives and property, protect development investment and livelihoods," says head of UNDP in Georgia, Jamie McGoldrick.
"This new technology can be part of preventive platforms as it helps to organize and share information, connect citizens with their government, as well as citizens to each other."
Elva project manager Jonne Catshoek says that Elva maps information received from the villages in weekly reports. This makes it possible to monitor developments over time and see the changes of different indicators.
"We can see seasonal trends in security incidents, for example, and point out when something varies from that trend," he says.
Along with security alerts, Elva can circulate weather forecasts, agriculture news and announcements.
"We had a stroke of bad weather a couple of weeks ago," says a farmer from Dvani, Zaal Akhalkatsi.
"But farmers in my village had enough time to get ready because I received an early notice about frosts."
Mr. Akhalkatsi is one of the most active users of Elva in his community. He finds it a handy tool for sharing information and networking. He also thinks that Elva could be useful for residents in South Ossetia, which is within 200 metres from his village.
"There are everyday issues we need to discuss, such as water and irrigation," he says. "If South Ossetians could join Elva, it would have been much easier to exchange information and find solutions."
In the villages where roads are bad and Internet access is still rare, mobile technology is an opportunity to connect with authorities and stay in touch with each other. It also helps to overcome a lingering sense of insecurity left by a violent conflict.
"I use Elva because it’s good for my village, for all of us," says community representative from Plavi, Lela Iluridze.
"It’s a hope for help, a promise that we will not be left alone."
>> Find out more about UNDP's work on crisis prevention and recovery in Georgia