Report on Harnessing New Technologies Responds to a New Era in Emergency Communications
Study Commissioned by OCHA, the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Identifies New Opportunities for Collaboration in an Evolving Technology Landscape
DUBAI, U.A.E./WASHINGTON, D.C./NEW YORK — March 28, 2011
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation released today at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference a landmark publication examining how technology is reshaping the information landscape in which aid groups respond to sudden onset emergencies. The report, Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies, analyzes how the humanitarian community and the emerging volunteer and technical communities worked together in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and recommends ways to improve coordination between them in future emergencies.
“The challenge is to improve coordination between the structured humanitarian system and the relatively loosely organized volunteer and technical communities. This report illustrates a potential way forward,” said Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. “Without direct collaboration with humanitarian organisations, volunteer and technical communities run the risk of mapping needs without being able to make sure that these needs can be met,” she stressed.
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 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.
Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation, welcomed the report, saying: “Humanitarian crises from Libya to Japan remind us that fast and accurate information is imperative in effective emergency response efforts. Today’s increased access to collaborative technologies and networks presents an important innovation milestone and an opportunity to rethink how data about urgent humanitarian needs are gathered, processed and shared. We are pleased to partner with OCHA in making this research available to advance this discussion and decision-making about the future of humanitarian aid.”
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Note to the Editors:
Fact sheets with further information about the report’s findings and recommendations are available at www.unfoundation.org/disaster-report. With this report as a springboard, people from both the humanitarian and volunteer and technical communities will discuss ideas in this report as part of the Disaster Relief 2.0 blog series on the UN Foundation’s blog, UN Dispatch, beginning on March 28. You can follow conversations about the report on Twitter using the hashtag #DisasterTech and on the UN Foundation’s Facebook page. Readers can submit questions to the report’s authors through those channels; a transcript with answers to select questions will be published on UN Dispatch on April 11, 2011.
About the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is the arm of the UN Secretariat that is responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure coherent response to emergencies. OCHA also ensures there is a framework within which each actor can contribute to the overall response effort. OCHA's mission is to mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies; advocate for the rights of people in need; promote preparedness and prevention; and facilitate sustainable solutions.
About the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) is a university-wide center involving multiple entities within the Harvard community that provide expertise in public health, medicine, social science, management, and other disciplines to promote evidence-based approaches to humanitarian assistance. The mission of the Initiative is to relieve human suffering in war and disaster by advancing the science and practice of humanitarian response worldwide. HHI fosters interdisciplinary collaboration in order to: 1.) improve the effectiveness of humanitarian strategies for relief, protection and prevention; 2.) instill human rights principles and practices in these strategies; and 3.) educate and train the next generation of humanitarian leaders.
About the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Partnership
The Technology Partnership between the United Nations Foundation & Vodafone Foundation is a leading public-private alliance using technology programs to strengthen the UN’s humanitarian efforts worldwide. Created in October 2005 with a £10 million commitment from The Vodafone Foundation matched by £5 million from the UN Foundation, the Partnership has three core areas of focus: (1) to strengthen communications in humanitarian emergencies though capacity building and support for disaster response missions; (2) to support the development of mobile health (mHealth) programs that tackle critical public health challenges and improve public health systems, decision-making and, ultimately, patient outcomes; and (3) to promote research and innovation using technology as a tool for international development. The UN Foundation and The Vodafone Foundation are among the founding partners of the mHealth Alliance. More information about the Technology Partnership can be found at: www.unfoundation.org/vodafone.
About the Authors
John Crowley is the lead author of the Disaster Relief 2.0 report. Crowley is a humanitarian researcher and practitioner who convenes technologists and policymakers from multiple organizations to work on shared problems. He works with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University. During the 2010 Haiti response, he supported a 'synergy operation' at the U.S. Southern Command, linking the command into the work being performed by the volunteer and technical communities, including OpenStreetMap, Ushahidi, Sahana, GeoCommons, Crisis Commons, Synergy Strike Force, and OpenSGI.
Jennifer Chan is a contributing author of the Disaster Relief 2.0 report. Chan is an Associate Faculty member at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Her current work focuses on program evaluations of open source technology organizations such as Ushahidi, training emerging practitioners in humanitarian technologies and researching on the interface between humanitarian agencies and volunteer technical communities. She is a humanitarian practitioner, researcher and consultant who provides public health technical support to NGOs and UN Agencies. She recently served as deputy of operations for the HHI Love a Child Disaster Recovery Center field hospital in Haiti.
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