refugees

For Refugees, Internet Access Has Become as Important as Food and Water

The report, which looked at data from 44 different countries, found that Internet access has become “as vital to them as food, water, or shelter” for many refugees.

by Nick Rose
17 September 2016, 12:00pm

You can tell a lot about how desperate someone is by what they're willing to do for food. Think of all of the darkest human behaviors, and, odds are, some poor soul has done it for some morsels of food. Conversely, and on a slightly lighter note, you can tell a lot by what people are willing to give up food for.

According to a new report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) entitled "Connecting Refugees: How Internet and Mobile Connectivity Can Improve Refugee Well-being and Transform Humanitarian Action," refugees around the world are using cell phones not only as a form of communication, but as a "critical tool for self-empowerment." In fact, the report, which looked at data from 44 different countries, found that Internet access has become "as vital to them as food, water, or shelter" for many refugees.

This may sound like a jarring finding, given that you can die if you don't have adequate food, water, or shelter, which is obviously not a concern if you lose your smartphone. But for many refugees, the internet is actually a matter of survival.

READ MORE: Refugees Are Teaching Berliners How to Cook the Food of Their Homelands

"In the world we live in today, Internet connectivity and smart phones can become a lifeline for refugees, providing an essential means for them to give and receive vital information, communicate with separated family members, gain access to essential services, and reconnect to the local, national and global communities around them," Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement.

In Tanzania, for instance, some refugees were selling up to ten days of food rations in exchange for one month of phone data. "Survey data shows that connectivity has often been prioritized over items such as education, clothing and health care," the report reads.

The survey goes on to explore the implications for private sector tech and mobile companies, but we pretty much stopped reading when they stopped talking about food.