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How Technology Can Improve Humanitarian Aid

Recent Breakthroughs

Humanitarian response is being challenged like never before. The amount of conflicts, disasters, and environmental deterioration cases are continuously increasing to a point where there are more conflicts and catastrophes present than at any other time in human history. Modern technology is a great tool when directed towards helping humanitarian aid workers in handling the exponentially increasing demand.

Technology to enhance Humanitarian Aid

The industrialized world is becoming more reliant on data, mobility and cloud solutions. Humanitarian aid also can benefit from these ever-developing technological possibilities. The challenge is how to make use of the data and technology to improve aid work while protecting the privacy of individuals. Listed below are three great ways to use modern technology for aid workers:

  • Opening up data is what brings efficiency, according to Gisli Rafn Olafsson, a humanitarian adviser at NetHope. In The Guardian, he emphasizes the need to start collaborating more and to focus more on what factors are limiting the ability to respond in an efficient manner. “Technology can help us do that, but unless you want to work with others,” Olafsson says.
  • Another way to use technology to improve humanitarian work is to adopt a simple mobile data collection. “There’s quite a lot of attention put onto data visualization and ‘big data’ analytics,” says Rosa Akbari in the same article. She works for development adviser Mercy Corps. “But the instant gratification of cutting a once day-long process of data entry into an instant upload shows that sometimes the simplest innovations can have the most impact.”
  • Social media has been booming for the last ten years and can be a great source of information for communities. It’s also a useful way to get in contact with aid agencies and hold them to account. The only issue with social media is that there are millions of people who don’t have access to it, especially in remote locations. It’s important not to become over-reliant on social media because most vulnerable are excluded.

A new technology that could prove to be a great tool for humanitarians is Blockchain. Blockchain is a digital ledger, providing a safe way to make and record transactions, agreements, and contracts. A network that could consist of thousands of computers shares the database. Towards the end of 2016, the Start Network announced a trial, trying to speed up the distribution of aid funding and track how it is being spent. The ultimate goal of the organization is to track every dollar in humanitarian aid, from donor to the beneficiary.

In the world of development, for all its benefits, there are question marks whether this technology is suitable. The blockchain is resource-intensive, requiring many people, computers, and servers. "Would Blockchain work in a country where the government frequently shuts down the internet, where there is civil unrest, or poor energy infrastructure and rolling brown outs? Probably not," says Ben Mann, global practice specialist at Development Alternatives Incorporated.

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