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FEATURE STORY

Haitian students develop life-saving software

April 16, 2014

The winning team "Premium", with Anne-Martine in the middle.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dozens of Haitian students participated in the “Konbit Teknolojik pou Resilyans” Hackathon, which took place from April 12-13, 2014. A Hackathon allows developers to compete as teams to create a software application in a few days.
  • The goal was to create a technological tool that will help the Department of Civil Protection have real time data on the risk and disaster preparedness situation in the communes.
  • The winning software will allow important data to be collected and viewed using an interactive map.

To prepare for natural disasters, the necessary data must be up-to-date. In the case of Haiti, which is vulnerable to earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, this is a matter of life and death.

Which communes are more at risk? What infrastructure should be put in place to respond to a disaster?  It is virtually impossible to make a sound decision without having the data in hand.

Until now, this information, which was updated and evaluated each year, was available in hard copy only and it was difficult for the Department of Civil Protection to update it in real time and peruse it quickly. 

Very soon however, with a mere click, these officials will be able to locate the risks facing a commune or department on an interactive map.  This map will also allow the level of preparedness of local institutions to be viewed.  The data will be entered directly by the communes and this system will therefore make the process of updating information more efficient.

“(This software) will allow us to adjust our responses to the needs of residents even in the most remote areas of the country.  We could have spent a great deal of time developing software of this nature but Haitian youth have made the task easier for us,” says Roosevelt Compere, the Prevention Coordinator at the Department of Civil Protection.

 This new software copped first place at a recent Hackathon, where Haitian students met for two days and one night to develop a technological tool to improve data collection in communes and to create a database through which information recorded on maps can be viewed.

Anne-Martine, 22 years old, is the only woman in the winning group, “Premium,” which she heads.  A fifth- year student at Haiti’s State University, she galvanized her fellow students and encouraged them to participate.  “Programming facilitates problem-solving,” she states. “Each project presents a new challenge.”

She is pleased that the software is being used to improve the State’s response to natural disasters and stresses the importance of team work—known as “konbit” in Creole.

Open Quotes

(This software) will allow us to adjust our responses to the needs of residents even in the most remote areas of the country. We could have spent a great deal of time developing software of this nature but Haitian youth have made the task easier for us. Close Quotes

Roosevelt Compere
Prevention Coordinator at the Department of Civil Protection

Haiti and innovationa bright future

On Sunday evening, with tired faces after 48 hours of work that included one sleepless night, the competitors submitted their software to a jury composed of representatives from the Department of Civil Protection, IBM, Surtab (a local developer of the first tablets made in Haiti), UNDP, and the World Bank.

Haiti and innovation: these two words are rarely used together.  Haiti does, however, have a vibrant community of programmers who are willing to offer new ideas and new perspectives, stated Michel Matera, a World Bank Disaster Risk Management Specialist.

Anne–Martine is living proof of this.  She has already developed software for the private sector and, in a few years, sees herself heading a company that provides technological services.

A similar example is Rachèle, 23 years old, who heads another Hackathon team. She comes from a modest family of eight children, all of whom have gone on to university.  She has a strong commitment to service and community problems.  In addition to her studies, she is working on a software project that would help the Ministry of Public Health better monitor hospitals, particularly those in remote areas.

Emmanuel, her brother, who also participated in the competition, sees himself as an entrepreneur working on technological products in a few years.

Stephen Claxton, the representative from Surtab, a Hackathon partner, states confidently that “if we encourage young people to remain in Haiti, the country will prosper. The future begins now.”

This Hackathon was organized on the margins of the Forum “Understanding Risk—Haiti 2014,” which will take place next May. “Premium,” the winning team, can participate in an international competition to showcase its project to the “Understanding Risk” international forum, to take place in London in June 2014. 

The top five Hackathon teams received Surtab tablets and gift certificates.  They are especially pleased to have internship opportunities at Surtab and the Department of Civil Protection.

The team work has only just begun.