Thomas R.C. Smallwood, Véronique Lefebvre, and Linus Bengtsson


Severe disasters can cause large population movements as affected people are displaced from their residences. The humanitarian response to such events relies on understanding where affected people are located. Mobility data can provide important insights at all stages of a crisis, from preparedness to long-term recovery.

At Flowminder, a non-profit foundation based in Sweden, the U.K., and Switzerland, we are working to support decision-makers to transform the lives of vulnerable people by facilitating access to novel sources of mobility data, including Call Detail Records (CDRs). Across Europe, non-profits, national statistical services, academic institutions, and mobile network operators (MNOs), including Orange, Telefonica, Telenor, and Vodafone, are collaborating on using CDR to support public policy. Additionally, the European Commission established the High-Level Expert Group on Business-to-Government Data Sharing to support such collaborations, including in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The global spread of mobile devices provides new opportunities for better understanding mobility and addressing mobility data gaps. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that 92% of the global population, including 89% of people in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), have mobile network coverage with 105 mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions per 100 people globally, and 74 subscriptions per 100 people in LDCs. However, mobile device penetration remains substantially lower in many vulnerable populations.

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