The ICT4Peace Foundation released a new briefing today, co-authored by me, critically looking at the response to the devastating Haitian earthquake in early January. We chart in brief the significant progress made in the use of ICTs in humanitarian aid, and also how much more needs to be done in order to sustain and systematise new developments, platforms and trends.
Read it in full here. As the report avers,
Haiti is seen by many as a turning point in the use of ICTs in disaster response, and rightfully so. However, vital lessons for humanitarian aid and first response clearly identified in the Asian Boxing Day tsunami response remain unheeded, along with points regarding aid work and the use of ICTs enumerated in the UN OCHA +5 symposium report, of which the ICT4Peace Foundation was a key partner. Disaster-affected communities remain largely passive recipients of information, having to deal with, amidst significant trauma, competing information on aid delivery and services. Beyond the hype, the majority of those affected by the Haitian earthquake were off the radar of ICTs. Compounding this, as early as April 2010, Haiti is receding from international media and global attention, yet significant long-term humanitarian challenges on the ground persist. It is unclear how the ICTs first deployed in the country will be sustained over the long term, and in particular international crowd-sourced platforms relying on volunteers. Significant problems of coordination, collaboration and aid delivery dogged the disaster response effort. The Head of UN OCHA, Sir John Holmes, in a strongly worded email in February expressed his frustration over the UN’s aid effort in Haiti, noting that “only a few clusters have fully dedicated cluster coordinators, information-management focal points and technical support capacity” and adding that the disjointed effort is casting doubts on the UN’s ability to effectively provide relief. Beyond the UN, significant concerns were raised over the coordination and collaboration between civil and military actors, and the international community as a whole.
Much more can and must be done to strengthen disaster preparedness and crisis information management. There are no longer excuses for ill-preparedness or haphazard aid response. We already know much of what needs to be done and going forward requires requisite funding coupled with political will of the UN system and international community. Some key ideas and suggestions in this regard are,
- The accelerated development and population of easily accessible datasets with essential information shared across UN and other aid agencies, to help identify, prepare for and mitigate disasters.
- Developing ICTs that work better in, and are more resilient to austere, traumatic environments.
- Significantly improving interoperability across all systems between UN agencies and other key platforms outside, including UN OneResponse, Ushahidi, Sahana and InSTEDD’s Emergency Information Service.
- Using endogenous technologies, help communities develop their own capacities and capabilities for disaster early warning, prevention and resilience, is vital.
- Greater cooperation between governments and NGOs, based on standard operating procedures governing information sharing to help aid work.
- Global and local business, as we have seen in Haiti, also has a key role to play in generating and sustaining financial inflows and strengthening aid. They need to be partners in crisis information management.
- The development of a comprehensive crisis information management preparedness and assessment tool box, including appraisal mechanisms, especially in and for disaster prone regions and countries.