Report Examines How New Technologies Can Aid In Humanitarian Response To Disasters

A new report examines how new technologies, including digital mapping, can influence emergency relief work and says technology will not be able to fully transform humanitarian aid without “better coordination and communication between digital volunteers and veteran agencies in the relief field, like the United Nations and the Red Cross,” the New York Times reports (Lohr, 3/28).

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation released the report, “Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies,” on Monday at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference, a press release states. “Written by a team of researchers led by John Crowley at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the report is based on interviews with more than 40 technology and humanitarian experts, many of whom responded to the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti,” the release notes (3/28).

The report documents how new satellite imagery allowed workers on the ground to gain a better perspective of the changes on the ground after the quake; how survivors trapped under rubble used text messaging to send details on their whereabouts; and provided the public the ability to make donations to relief organizations over cell phones, according to U.N. News Centre. “This report illustrates a potential way forward. Without direct collaboration with humanitarian organizations, volunteer and technical communities run the risk of mapping needs without being able to make sure that these needs can be met,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said at the report’s launch (3/28).

“Humanitarian groups say that the crisis-mapping response to the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 was striking proof of the potential of new mapping tools,” the New York Times writes. “Haiti showed everyone that it is going to be crucial to adopt and use these technologies to make humanitarian work better, faster and more efficient,” according to Adele Waugaman, senior director of an aid technology partnership between the United Nations and Vodafone foundations (3/28). “The report identifies best practice and lessons learned from the Haiti operation; makes recommendations to strengthen coordination between the humanitarian and technology communities; and proposes a draft framework for institutionalizing this collaboration,” the release notes (3/28).

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a related story about academics’ involvement in crisis mapping efforts. “Many academics are eager to lend a hand – or crunch a data set – for the cause. Their efforts are helping to turn the crises in the Middle East and Japan into an experiment in Disaster Relief 2.0. The result: a range of Web-mapping projects that are changing how crisis information is shared. For map creators, the hope is that those tools will help relief workers on the ground. But academics building the platforms also have other audiences in mind: scholars who will study the crises, students eager for practical experience, and average citizens interested in getting breaking news stories in new ways,” according to the article (Parry, 3/27).

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