Bridging digital in a large humanitarian organization

29 Nov 2019 09:30h - 10:30h

Event report

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Digital technology has exercised its influence over many industries, if not all. Humanitarian and non-profit organisations are no exception. The session, organised by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), featured the ongoing projects that utilise digital technology to change the reactionary nature of humanitarian efforts to reduce human suffering effectively. Cloud-sourced information and imagery are helping the IFRC develop their preparedness for future natural disasters by developing detailed maps in areas where information is scarce. A new financing mechanism was introduced to harness the preventive efforts and build resilience in vulnerable communities in the developing world.

Missing Maps is a project initiated by the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and other humanitarian organisations to map the most vulnerable areas in developing countries to support international humanitarian organisations, local NGOs, and individuals to better respond to crises that affect the areas. Using Open Street Map as a platform, remote volunteers add roads, buildings, rivers, etc. to on the basis of satellite imagery. As a next step, on-site volunteers work with local community residents to validate the inputs and add details, such as types of buildings (schools, hospitals, and clinics) and names of roads. Then, humanitarian organisations work on planning risk reduction measures for people living in these communities. Ms Katharina Lorenz (German Red Cross) said keeping the maps as open source is important to further the collaborative approach among humanitarian organisations.

Digitalisation has enabled the IFRC volunteers across the globe to contribute to the organisation’s work without being physically present in their field offices. Mr Jeremy Mortimer (IFRC) highlighted that mapping projects like Missing Maps can be conducted by any volunteer with an Internet connection, which will further strengthen the organisation’s anticipatory actions.

To harness the digital-enabled projects like Missing Maps, a new financing mechanism, Forecast-based Financing (FbF) was established to enable the IFRC to fund the preparatory actions based on in-depth risk analysis and risk mapping. Funds released by the FbF can reduce the scale of suffering by setting up emergency shelters, providing medical kits, food, and clean water, and evacuating people. Ms Lucy Price (German Red Cross) introduced the use case in Hanoi, Vietnam, which was the first application of the FbF to the urban context. Vietnam is considered a top-five country that is affected by climate change. The country experiences heat wave hazards every summer, which acutely affect people in the urban area. As anticipatory measures, the Vietnam Red Cross Society opened the Red Cross cooling centres across the city and operated the Red Cross cooling buses directing vulnerable population to the cooling centres, all of which are funded by the FbF. The satellite thermography was used to identify the heat islands across the city, which allowed the organisation to target the opening sites of cooling centres. As a natural disaster caused by extreme weather is likely to increase, the humanitarian sector has to continue to strengthen its preparedness and resilience by utilising digital technology and developing the ecosystem that efficiently harnesses digitalisation.

By Nagisa Miyachi