By Emma Batha
Technology is transforming aid operations, from the use of drones to deliver children’s vaccines to satellite-based early warning systems tracking drought. According to an exclusive poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, mobile technology had the greatest impact on aid operations in 2019, closely followed by drones and satellites.
Revolutionizing Aid Operations
Innovative technological solutions have allowed humanitarian groups to respond to disasters faster, assess needs more accurately, reach remote communities, and mitigate potential risks. Drones, for example, have shown great promise in delivering medical supplies to rural areas and responding to natural catastrophes like earthquakes and floods. UNICEF has been exploring their potential from Namibia to Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, Sierra Leone and Malawi are making significant strides in the use of drones, with the launch of a drone testing corridor and Africa’s first drone and data academy respectively. However, it is mobile technology that has brought the greatest benefits to those in need, according to most of the 18 agencies polled.
Global Access to Mobile Devices
“The increased global access to mobile devices has had a massive impact on the humanitarian world,” said Christian Gad from the Danish Refugee Council. With over five billion people now having mobile phones, individuals caught up in crises can access vital information, stay in touch with loved ones, access services, and receive cash transfers.
Mobile banking, described by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as “a real game-changer,” has facilitated the direct transfer of money to participants in livelihood protection programs in countries like Somalia. This system bypasses the challenges associated with delivering cash to remote areas and empowers individuals to buy local food and support themselves during lean times.
Bundled Mobile Services and Open-Source Tools
Mercy Corps has found that “bundled mobile services” providing multiple tools and resources in one place have been a significant aid. In East Africa, more than 3 million farmers have been equipped with apps that aggregate information on weather forecasts and livestock market prices, helping them maximize their harvests and incomes.
Agencies are also leveraging open-source tools that can be used with mobile devices to transform the collection and processing of information in disaster-stricken areas. This shift from paper-based assessments to digital methods facilitates quicker decision-making, enabling aid workers to reach the most affected regions promptly and adapt to changing needs. Additionally, technology allows agencies to collect feedback remotely from communities receiving assistance, giving people a voice and an opportunity to hold organizations accountable.
Technology for Empowerment and Protection
Several agencies have highlighted how technology is empowering and protecting girls and women. Plan International, for instance, has introduced a social media platform called Girls Out Loud, providing a secure space to discuss topics like sexual health and gender violence. ActionAid UK and ActionAid Vietnam are developing apps to help refugee women access services and ensure their safety.
Early Warning Systems
In addition to helping agencies respond to disasters, technology is playing a crucial role in mitigating their impact. Action Against Hunger has developed a Pastoral Early Warning System that utilizes satellite data to track droughts and anticipate risks in the Sahel region. This information enables the agency to measure plant growth and surface water over a vast area, leading to better crisis planning and response.
Technological advancements are revolutionizing aid operations in 2019. From the benefits of mobile technology to the potential of drones and satellites, these tools allow for faster responses, more accurate assessments, and the ability to reach even the most remote communities. Mobile devices have become essential lifelines for individuals caught in crises, providing access to critical information, services, and cash transfers. With the continuous development of innovative solutions, aid organizations can better empower and protect vulnerable populations, making a lasting difference in their lives.
This article was originally published on Zenith City News. For more stories on humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change, visit Zenith City News.