Ten years after the resurgence of conflict in Iraq, many organizations are trying to determine how the region is faring today, using complicated metrics pertaining to oil revenue, nominal GDP, or even bicycle ownership. But media network Al Jazeera has taken a different approach, partnering with Souktel to send a single text message across the nation, asking thousands of Iraqi citizens two very basic questions: “How many hours do you have electricity per day? And how do power outages affect your life?”
Working with local telecom networks, Souktel was able to reach nearly 3,000 Iraqis (78% of those living in the country have mobile phones, but only 5% have Internet access, according to the BBC). Their answers, which reveal an ongoing struggle to tackle the energy crisis in Iraq, also represent a first-ever opportunity for many rural communities to have their voices heard. These smaller, remote villages and towns are often underrepresented in public discourse–but through mobile polling they’re able to participate in an important debate, and demand accountability from electrical authorities.
As responses flowed in from across Iraq, Souktel and Al Jazeera teams sorted, tagged and posted the text-message comments, creating an interactive map which lets anyone with web access see where the situation is most dire. Some examples of the SMS replies include these three, sent from citizens in Mosul, in northern Iraq:
Azad: “[The electricity] disconnects for 10 hours every 24 hours. It affects our overall domestic and work lives, especially because my job depends on electricity.”
Khalida: “We get electricity for 6 hours. It affects our psychological well-being and the economy in Al-Hamdaniya’s Qura Qosh.”
Saeeda: “Power disconnects between 3 to 7 hours. It affects our work pace. Fuel is expensive so there is no possible way to purchase it for generators and that affects work.”
Souktel CEO Jacob Korenblum adds: “Electricity is the cornerstone of daily life–it’s really the engine that drives any post-conflict economy. By creating a platform that lets thousands of citizens share their views on this issue, and by posting the results publicly, we hope to paint a clearer picture of the challenge and contribute to response planning”.
This project also builds on Souktel’s past work delivering mobile polls with partners, says Korenblum. He points to a2012 poll, also conducted with Al Jazeera, which asked Libyan voters how they felt in the run-up to their nation’s historic election; a 2010 initiative with UN agency Global Pulse asked Iraqis for their thoughts on the global economic crisis.
“SMS and audio polling are growing areas of focus for Souktel,” he adds. “In working with our partners in the media and aid sectors, we’ve seen how basic mobile technology can be a powerful tool for giving citizens a voice, especially when there’s a need to reach people at scale.”