Smartphone app traces the thousands of missing persons in Colombia

World Today

In Colombia, nearly 85,000 people have disappeared over the past couple of decades. Some of this is because of the country’s 50-year-old armed conflict; others simply because of unsolved crimes. Now, one smartphone app is hoping to find the missing.

CGTN’s Michelle Begue reports from Bogota.

Three years ago, 22-year-old Wilson Fernando Nunez left his family home to visit his girlfriend. No one ever saw him again.

Wilson’s mother hasn’t lost hope. She said she is only connected to social media as a means to finding him.

“I look through worldwide networks where I see people find their loved ones, dead or alive,” said Daisy Contreras, the mother of Nunez.

According to Colombia’s Institute of Legal Medicine from 1938 to 2017, over 120,000 people have been reported missing, and over 35,000 people were confirmed either dead or alive. Nearly 85,000 are still missing.

That is how Colombian and former intelligence officer, Michael Angelo Barbosa, got the idea to create a smartphone application, “Se Busca,” which means ‘searching’ in English.

“No one is really interested in looking at the government pages to search for missing people,” said Barbosa. “The app is a sort of social network so this helps people participate. You send videos, and send support messages and sometimes clues.”

The app works with government data to register missing people. Since the app launched two months ago, it has registered 400 users who are looking for loved ones.

The biggest test for the app was pre-launch when Mocoa town officials reported more than 170 people still missing in April after a landslide.

The Ministry of Technology asked the app creators to use the demo to help the people of Mocoa. Some family members used the app to search for their loved ones, Michael Barbosa said 12 were found through tips gathered on the app.

Even more importantly, app creator Barbosa said families don’t have to wait the usual 72 hours to report a missing person to police. With this app, the crucial first hours are not wasted.