ARE THE USE OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES FOR HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS AN OPPORTUNITY OR A CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
There’s no denying the rapid impact technology is having around the world in different sectors, from ICTs, electricity, business, healthcare, and industry. Over the last few decades, technology has driven economic development, and social transformation to heights never witnessed before in human history. With its tentacle’s reaching wide and far, it was only a matter of time before its impact was felt in humanitarian operations.
Due to rapid advancement, technology has found itself in low-income countries, which has created a growing interest from practitioners, donors, and governments on how it can best server humanitarian responses. Technology has great potential to detect their needs in advance, enabling a greater scale and speed of reactions, focusing the specificity of resource transfers to match the requirements and increase accountability while at the same time reducing the opportunities for corruption and diversion.
Just like any other sector, humanitarian organizations have, for a long time, sought to apply the latest technologies to help mitigate the challenges presented by conflict response and disaster. And while the promise of advanced technology to meet the needs of people in humanitarian crisis has been on the limelight lately, it’s not always been for the right reasons.
What Are the Challenges?
Over the years, humanitarian organizations have increased their digital footprint with new opportunities to help their operations become efficient and accountable. While new technologies present them with a bounty of opportunities they also come with their own set of risks. As humanitarian operations increasingly depend on the collection and processing of data that is both sensitive and personal, they may become vulnerable to adverse cyber-attacks that could negatively affect those who need it the most.
Full Control Over Data
According to tech circles, data is the next big thing, in humanitarian operations, it’s a pillar of action, and to prevent challenges, operators need to limit access to users only. There are several ways this data could present challenges, especially when it is sought after for use other than its initial humanitarian objective. A good example is when governments and third parties intervene and get access to sensitive data through metadata collection.
Integrity of Data
It goes without saying that the reputation of a humanitarian operation is based on trust. Think about this: what would happen if there is a cyber-attack against the integrity of a humanitarian organization? One, it could wrongly steer the institution into prioritizing one population over the other or working in particular areas over others. It could also place the lives of the victims of displacement in danger if their information leaks to the wrong hands.
How Are New Technologies Transforming Humanitarian Operations?
There are millions of people around the world who have been forcefully evicted from their homes. Fortunately, as the global need for food, housing, medical relief rises, so does the capability of new technology to offer solutions to some of these massive challenges.
A few decades ago, internet access was a luxury, accessible to scientists and academics; in 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared it a fundamental human right. What you might not know is, while food, shelter, and medical supplies are essential to displaced people, so is the internet. With the internet, they can easily contact loved ones, process legal documents, and also plan for their future.
There are hundreds of partnerships in humanitarian operations that are helping spread internet connectivity to displaced persons. A good example is the Cisco and Italian Red cross partnership that offers Wi-Fi to migrants and refugees in Italy.
There’s been a notable improvement in data sources and processing software over the years, which has been very resourceful to humanitarian operations looking for insights into an individual’s most critical needs. Data analytics processes complex data consolidating them into comprehensive dashboards to help identify where help is needed most. These dashboards are soo advanced they can trace safe delivery paths during conflict for aid. Take an example of NASA, Mercy Corps Partnership in Niger, that uses satellite imagery to trace underground water sources to help fight drought affecting millions of people in the country.
Drones offer a lot of help when it comes to humanitarian operations; they can be used for imagery, surveillance, and fast response during emergencies. In Nepal, drones are used to offer imagery in agriculture to identify crop growth. In Puerto Rico, drones are used in emergency response efforts. They help local authorities access the damage and also get a better view of the landscape in emergencies.
3D printing is quite a fascinating discovery that offers opportunities for innovation in various fields. In humanitarian operations, it provides a chance to develop equipment for vulnerable communities. In a Refugee Camp in Jordan, children with disabilities have access to desks, walkers, prosthetics, and wheelchairs that are custom-built thanks to 3D printers.
To effectively mitigate the challenges presented by new technologies, stakeholders need to come together and outline standards that will fully address, data availability, control, and integrity. Humanitarian operations should also develop a thoughtful approach to technologies that are based on a thorough assessment of their impacts as well as safeguards.