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Sahana Software Foundation investigates the use of pictographs in disaster information systems to understand the challenges for implementing a pictograph-based disaster communication system on mobile phones with the capability to save life and livelihoods in disaster situations.


30% of the Asian and Sub-Saharan populations are low-literate. Present day ICT-driven disaster and climate change communication does not provide the means for sharing risk information with and receiving risk information from low-literate or linguistically challenged populations. There is no established pictograph dictionary and semantics. Our challenge is to validate the concept of pictographic disaster communication and to stimulate feedback on design requirements.


Pictograph enabled communication will empower communities of practice in disaster and climate change to include all linguistically challenged populations. It will bring about change in ways which risk is perceived and communicated by the low-literate and linguistically challenged. Moreover, pictograph enabled communication empowers interconnection of these marginalised populations for knowledge mobilisation in the given context.


This project will develop a first version of a dictionary and semantics for pictographic disaster communication. This will allow for initial testing and confirming with practitioners on their requirements for national implementations.

Sahana Software Foundation website

Microsoft Research India website

ExCiteS, University College London website

Latest Updates

Starting work on Mobile Disaster Pictographs

31 Jul 2016

“Help, Pirates!” – An Exercise with Disaster Communication Experts


Extending Early Warnings to Linguistically Marginalized Populations

17 Jan 2017

In its current state of practice, early warnings still marginalize various populations: Low-literates, migrant workers, children, elderly, people with disorders, and tourists – all of which might be unable to read and comprehend text-based notifications.


“Help, Pirates!” – An Exercise with Disaster Communication Experts

31 Jan 2017

SSF explore what disaster managment professionls think about pictograph based communication, what their ideas are, and how they understand pictographs in their own field of expertise.


Sri Lankan low-literate communities enjoy symbology in disaster communication

03 Apr 2017

In general it was observed that low-literate community members, in Sri Lanka, struggled with comprehending the Sri Lanka Meteorological Services text bulletins. Simpler visual indicators are easier to digest and help them with deciding on the safety and response measures they need to activate.


Pictograph-based Disaster Communication with Deaf Communities

11 Apr 2017

After reaching out to low-literate communities in rural and urban Sri Lanka, we addressed another marginalized group in the Philippines: Deaf people. According to UNESCAP, people with disabilities have a 400% higher risk to die in hazard situations.


Do Hazard Pictographs need Context?

23 May 2017

What kind of pictographs are suitable to be used for natural disaster alerting? To find out, we were addressing marginalized communities with reading and writing problems in Sri Lanka and the Philippines last month which he have reported on previously


Testing a Prototypical Disaster Pictograph Dictionary in the Philippines

28 Jun 2017

Sahana’s Pictographs in disaster communication project is considering two disaster communication work flows; thus, downstream “alerting” and upstream “reporting”.


Sri Lanka completes pictographs fieldwork after devastating floods

23 Aug 2017

Unfortunately, the low-literate and functionally-illiterate communities, in Colombo and Ratnapura Districts, who took part in the previous exercise, were severely affected by the flash floods from the unpredicted heavy rains.


Beyond text translations for the displaced and marginalized

11 Jan 2018

The European INTERACT project is part of a Migration Policy initiative. The project is studying how nations set emergency communication policies and plans to support multi-linguistics and crisis management.


People with literacy challenges are “left behind” in disaster communication

15 May 2018

The UN Sustainable Development Goals commit to “leave no one behind!” However, the illiterate, functionally illiterate, and situationally-illiterate are highly marginalized. There is very little or no addressing of inclusive disaster communication.


Related Resources

Report Disaster Risk Reduction

Final Report: Mobile Pictographs For Disaster Communication

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