Calling Cambodians to put a check on COVID-19

Creation date: 8 Apr 2020

Information is critical in a crisis – but not all information is equal. How the phone-based early warning system EWS1294 in Cambodia is being activated as an information and communications channel for arresting the spread of COVID19.

When it comes to disasters, access to accurate, timely and relevant information is lifesaving.

This has become increasingly apparent as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds around the world. No less so in Cambodia, a country on the cusp of calling a national emergency to halt the spread of the deadly virus.

Here, an early warning phone service known as ‘EWS1294’ is emerging as a key communication tool in the Government’s COVID-19 outbreak response.

Designed by NGO People in Need (PIN) Cambodia and named after the government-supported mobile short code ‘1294’, EWS1294 was originally designed as an early warning system for impending natural hazards such as floods or storms.

Once activated, the system sends a free voice message in Khmer language to all subscribed users within a specific geographical area.

It is a practical means for communities to receive alerts. According to a 2016 study, more than 96% of Cambodians report owning a phone, and more than 99% are reachable through some sort of phone.

Supported by UNICEF and the UN Development Programme, the system is now being used as a means of communication between the Ministry of Health and communities nationwide. COVID-19-related alerts are being relayed by Provincial Committees for Disaster Management. Sixty callouts made in the first week reached over 129,000 people across 19 provinces.

In recent months, an EWS1294 Facebook page has acquired over 47,000 followers.  The account has posted on topics including hygiene, using masks and social distancing. The posts have attracted a total of 26,768 likes, comments and shares.

One post reached 162,219 users, demonstrating how social media can be used to spread information beyond the borders of a single page.

Information via traditional methods, such as written notices, doorknocking and word-of-mouth, can sometimes be missed by the most vulnerable, including those who live in remote locations, the elderly, or those who are illiterate.

Delivering updates by both phone and social media help ensure these populations receive the advice they need, particularly when that advice is changing rapidly.

Jeppe Mariager-Lam, Technology and Innovation Manager for People in Need, captures the exponential impact of early warning services like EWS1294, “If you receive a phone call you will not tell just your own family but your neighbors and your neighbor’s neighbors. Potentially by just calling one phone number you can warn a whole village.”

The UN Development Programme has been supporting implementation of the EWS1294 system in Sihanoukville, Koh Kong, Kampot Cham, Tboung Khmum, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Takeo, Kandal, and Phnom Penh. Combining this with support from other partners, the system is expected to have national coverage by mid-May 2020.

The UN Development Programme is actively working alongside ministries, organisations and communities to respond to and support COVID-19 recovery. As of publication, 117 cases had been officially registered in Cambodia, with the Government working hard to educate people on the disease and to limit its spread, including restrictions such as closing gyms and postponing Khmer New Year.

Written by Kelsea Clingeleffer, Results Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Consultant

Related articles

‘Dial 1294: UNDP and People in Need expand early warning phone service in Cambodia’, July 2019

'“We need timely information”: When floods are normal, warning is critical', August 2019

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