Homegrown app helping Kabul residents steer clear of danger

Enlarge / Taliban fighters stand guard in a automobile alongside the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021.

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As Kabul fell on Sunday, 20 younger Afghan tech employees tracked the Taliban’s advance, broadcasting real-time studies of gunfire, explosions, and visitors jams throughout the town via a brand new app.

Known as Ehtesab, the app depends on ground-level studies from a vetted staff of customers to a personal WhatsApp group.

The studies, that are then verified by the app’s reality checkers, vary from safety incidents, equivalent to fires, gunshots and bombings, to highway closures and visitors issues to electrical energy cuts. Sara Wahedi, the 26-year-old founding father of the app, mentioned the staff tried to substantiate the studies with the inside ministry, “when it used to exist.”

On Sunday morning, Wahedi and her staff have been purported to be importing the brand new model of their iOS app however as an alternative discovered themselves coping with an ever extra frantic stream of studies.

“Breaking on the @ehtesabaf App: Taliban have entered Arghandi, Paghman District. South Gate of Kabul. ANDSF [Afghan National Defence and Security Forces] beneath assault,” Wahedi wrote on Twitter on the time.

She mentioned that because the Taliban superior throughout Afghanistan, Ehtesab had constructed a dependable means of “getting studies from a whole lot of totally different safety constructions,” together with police, the federal government and worldwide organisations.

Quickly the staff began receiving studies that the Taliban had captured Bagram jail, within the former US army base simply north of Kabul.

“At that time our reporting mechanisms have been nonetheless in place, so it was straightforward to converse with our safety staff and all our reporters. We have been monitoring minute by minute, speaking to totally different police districts, monitoring the Taliban kilometer by kilometer by that time,” she mentioned.

“However by the point they reached the town heart, all the things shut down, nothing was on-line, there was no means of talking to one another. Folks deleted their messages or turned off their telephones. When the Taliban reached the president’s workplace, it was like, ‘OK, now we’ve got to work alone’.”

Ehtesab, which implies “accountability” in Pashto and Dari, is co-owned by Afghan firm Netlinks, which invested $40,000, and Wahedi, who mentioned she has put in $2,500 of her personal cash.

“I didn’t need to register as an NGO, to be benchmarked or restricted by the United Nations or the US. That is an Afghan-led and funded, absolutely 100% Afghan staff engaged on this,” she mentioned.

Users of the app can receive phone alerts based on their location, warning them of dangers, and can report incidents themselves.
Enlarge / Customers of the app can obtain telephone alerts based mostly on their location, warning them of risks, and may report incidents themselves.


Customers of the app can decide to obtain telephone alerts based mostly on their location, warning them to keep away from sure areas, buildings or companies. They will additionally report incidents themselves by way of the app, which turns in your digital camera and microphone so you possibly can ship video footage to Wahedi’s staff. The objective, she mentioned, is to empower native communities with stay info on which to behave.

Ehtesab continues to be working, and Wahedi mentioned she desires to maintain working it so long as doable, though she is at the moment outdoors Afghanistan. She has managed to lift almost $15,000 via a GoFundMe marketing campaign, a part of which she is going to ship to her staff in Kabul as emergency funds.

Her plan is to construct a nationwide alert system, not simply via the apps however via SMS warnings as nicely. Their workplace in central Kabul stays closed, with workers working from house, however they plan to add a brand new iOS model as quickly as they will get again to their desks.

“We simply need to alleviate a number of the anxieties that Afghans have in these unsure and unstable occasions,” she mentioned. “We’ll discover alternative ways of garnering knowledge concerning the metropolis and safety…  That’s the fantastic thing about tech, it is aware of no borders,” she mentioned.

Wahedi based the corporate in 2018, after spending two years working for President Ashraf Ghani’s workplace on Afghanistan’s social growth coverage, however insists she will not be affiliated to any political group.

She had moved again to her hometown as a 21-year-old, after having escaped Taliban rule in her native Kabul to go to Canada as a refugee on the age of six. Twenty years later, the Afghan entrepreneur discovered herself fleeing from the Taliban once more. This time she doesn’t know if she is going to ever be capable to return. “It’s like Groundhog Day,” she mentioned.

Immediately, she is utilizing what she calls the “privilege” of getting escaped Kabul to attempt to put her family and friends on constitution flights out of Afghanistan.

“I’m grateful to be with my mother however the guilt is crippling once I take into consideration my house, once I take into consideration the actual fact I’ll by no means be capable to return to the Kabul I’ve recognized for thus lengthy,” she mentioned. “I don’t assume any of us will ever be the identical once more.”

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