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SMS an SOS

When a controversial presidential election descended into ethnic violence in Kenya last December, many citizens responded not with their fists but with their thumbs. In response to the fighting, PeaceNet-Kenya, a coalition of human rights organizations, set up a text-message "nerve center" that allowed people from across the country to report potential flash points — ...

When a controversial presidential election descended into ethnic violence in Kenya last December, many citizens responded not with their fists but with their thumbs. In response to the fighting, PeaceNet-Kenya, a coalition of human rights organizations, set up a text-message "nerve center" that allowed people from across the country to report potential flash points — from gang fighting to food poisoning scares. PeaceNet then alerted security forces or, in some cases, prominent local elders who were able to preempt the escalation of violence. It’s part of a growing trend in which SMS technology is being used to aid conflict-resolution efforts. In South Africa, widespread xenophobic violence forced almost 50,000 foreign residents from their homes in May. That prompted Cell-Life, a local public-health company, to team up with Treatment Action Campaign, a South African non-governmental organization, to create an SMS hotline. Vulnerable citizens were able to simply text the hotline, which routed their messages to the appropriate authorities for a response. Increasingly, it seems, help is just a text away.

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