Ehtesab is a startup and mobile app that provides Afghan citizens and their families with real-time security, traffic, and city service updates. Ehtesab launched in 2018 after its founder, Sara Wahedi, experienced a suicide bombing near her home in Kabul and recognized the need for a real-time, monitoring platform with emergency information. Since then, Ehtesab has become a critical resource for Afghan citizens who have found it increasingly more difficult to access transparent and reliable information on incidents in their community, especially after the Taliban’s takeover in 2021. Ehtesab users are able to learn about events ranging from electricity outages to explosions, public demonstrations, and gunfire. Roadblocks are a particular priority, as freedom of movement is regularly restricted, especially for women. Ehtesab is accessible all around the globe, enabling not just Afghan residents but also the Afghan diaspora, expats, researchers, and those with loved ones in Afghanistan to be alerted about incidents. Ehtesab was initially financed and developed by an Afghan tech organization and now operates independently and relies on crowdfunding and volunteers to operate and sustain the app. Ehtesab is free and available for download from the Apple App Store as well as Google Play.
Theory of Change
Making information on security incidents in the community easily and readily available promotes access to information in environments where authorities promote misinformation and disinformation.
Ehtesab sources information on incidents through a number of forums. Prior to the 2021 Taliban takeover, the Ehtesab team managed a WhatsApp group where military members, veterans, security specialists, contractors, experts, and journalists shared information with one another. Once a report about an incident was made, Ehtesab was able to post the incident to its platform within 5 minutes, on average. With the 2021 Taliban takeover, however, Ehtesab faced serious limitations on its ability to utilize this network, and began to rely largely on social media instead. The Ehtesab team constantly monitors social media, searching for keywords that include fire, explosion, Taliban, and harassment. The team then works to verify the authenticity of reported incidents, looking for confirmation from journalists or corroborating documentation on social media, such as photos, video, or audio. If there is no verification but multiple Afghans report the same incident, Ehtesab will share an alert but highlight that it is unverified. Users can also send reports of incidents directly to the app, although Ehtesab acknowledges that these reports are extremely difficult to verify and may actually be submitted by fake profiles looking to deliberately lead citizens into dangerous situations. The Ehtesab app has a map that shows current alerts and includes an option for push notifications. Ehtesab does not track users’ location for data security reasons.
To date, Ehtesab has seen 10,000+ downloads through Google Play, with downloads surging after the Taliban takeover. In 2022, Ehtesab reached over 150,000 Afghans with its near real-time, verified alerts. Ehtesab’s coverage currently spans Kabul, Nagarhar, Herat, Kandahar, and Mazar, with plans to expand to all 34 Afghan provinces. 372 individual donors contributed over $26,000 USD via Ehtseab’s GoFundMe page. For her work on Ehtesab, founder Sara Wahedi has been recognized by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35.