Thursday, February 25, 2010

GPS and cameras in Afghanistan

Wired's Danger Room has a short article on work-for-pay programs in Afghanistan. And I quote:

"So how do you track cash-for-work in a place like Helmand, where fighting still rages? John Stephens, who manages programs in Afghanistan for the U.S. charity Mercy Corps, came up with one solution: Use cameras with GPS to verify aid projects in insecure places where expatriate staff can’t oversee projects in person."

"The idea is simple: If an area is too dicey to send in expats, Mercy Corps sends in Afghan staff with GPS cameras — either a Nikon point-and-shoot, or a Garmin handheld GPS with built-in camera — to verify that the projects are actually being undertaken in the right places, so they can pay wages. The data is then uploaded to a Google Earth–style program, so Mercy Corps — which implements USAID projects — can track projects and their participants."

Let me get this straight. National staff is being sent into potentially hot conflict zones with a digital camera and GPS and told to take pictures? I hope there's a little more to this story in terms of risk management. I suspect packing a Western camera and GPS receiver around the Helmand Province might just be viewed as spying by the Taliban. What do you think? With some potentially nasty consequences for the Afghan employee. On the surface this sounds like using national staff as, excuse the pun, Canon-fodder.

Any readers from Mercy Corps that are hip to the details care to comment?

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Blogger Seb said...

Not from Mercy Corps, but an ex- aid worker in the region. I agree with you entirely- afghans with state of the art equipment are at risk in Taliban country, *(but then again, so is any Afghan flying NGO colors).

7:03 AM  
Blogger Mapgyver said...

While working for a USAID funded project in Kabul, a colleague developed an application that allows data capture using an Android Phone. I am a GPS guy.

Alternatively, any old mobile that has a camera and GPS will do this task much much better than a camera and GPS. This is the hard way !

And the Nikon GPS cameras are aweful to use and the GPS doesnt usually work well.

10:43 PM  

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