April 8

SmartAID, an Israel-based tech aid charity, is helping restore vital phone and internet connections after a deadly earthquake hit Taiwan last week.

At least 10 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured after the 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Hualien County on Taiwan’s mountainous eastern coast on April 3. Another 700 people were trapped in wreckage.

The earthquake is the strongest to have hit Taiwan, an island with a history of earthquakes, in almost 25 years. It was the same magnitude as a 1999 earthquake that claimed over 2,400 lives.

SmartAID has a local team that was already stationed in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei – which is now a nine-hour drive away from Hualien after landslides caused road closures – and is flying out more people from Israel.

The charity’s first priority is to provide power and communications for the 91,000 households hit by outages on the island 100 miles off the south-east coast of China.

“Our focus right now is telecommunications and electricity,” said Shachar Zahavi, who co-founded SmartAID in 2019 to provide a swift response and the innovative use of technology to those in need during times of crisis.

The charity is working closely with local partners in Taiwan to see if it can integrate solar power units and telecommunications systems to address the widespread power outages. Matters have been made worse by the closure of a major highway due to landslides and rockfalls.

SmartAID won’t be sending search and rescue teams as they often do in such disasters, because the Taiwanese government has its own well-equipped personnel.

“In this case we’re acting in more of an advisory role on specific issues, but the main thing they’ve been asking is how can they get electricity, get online and get communications. They need to tell us what they need,” said Zahavi, who has been involved in disaster relief work since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

He said the disaster was not on the same scale as Turkey, when a February 2023 quake killed over 53,000 people. On that occasion SmartAID sent 25 staff members. 

“We have sent two people to Taiwan and we have a group of local people there,” he said. “The best way to provide aid is through people who are already there and who understand the culture. That’s how we work everywhere across the world.”

SmartAID has been active in Australia, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, Peru, Brazil and India. It has been helping in Ukraine since Russia invaded two years ago, in Morocco where an earthquake killed over 2,000 last September, and in Hawaii, which was recently devastated by wildfires.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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