Artificial Intelligence and Disaster ResponseNatural disasters are a phenomenon that affects countries around the world. The World Health Organization reports that more than 160 million people are affected by natural disasters annually. Estimates from the World Bank also suggest that 26 million people are forced below the poverty line annually due to natural disasters. Technological advancements with artificial intelligence (AI) aiding natural disasters may help countries with their response to such catastrophic events and help reduce these detrimental effects.

Natural Disasters Contributing to Poverty

Across the globe, poorer communities are more negatively affected by natural disasters than wealthier communities. Natural disasters have the potential to cause a major loss of income due to damage to infrastructure, crops, or a decrease in demand and tourism. This loss of income is more significant for those in the low-income category as they have fewer resources to begin the rebuilding process, potentially causing long-term poverty.

History shows that major natural disasters widen income inequalities. After the 2011 floods in Australia, low-income individuals lost an average of $3,100 AUD ($2,141 USD) per year. This lower income was typically maintained for five years after the natural disaster. Contrastingly, middle and high-income individuals gained over $3,300 AUD ($2,280 USD) annually for those five years. This was because emergency aid was more oriented to businesses rather than households, and the wealthy are more likely to own businesses. This example illustrates how low-income individuals are more vulnerable to being pushed into poverty due to a natural disaster.

The U.N. reports that, globally, the largest loss of life due to natural disasters occurs in poor communities. This may be a result of the fact that low-income individuals tend to live in geographical areas that are more prone to natural disasters. Additionally, those who are low-income tend to live in poorly constructed, fragile housing. This was observed in 2010 when an earthquake hit Haiti, where the largest loss of life was in a fragile and over-crowded housing facility, located in a poor community.

Artificial Intelligence Improving Disaster Response

AI is skilled at analyzing and tracking weather patterns to help predict the course and severity of natural disasters. However, technology has previously struggled to accurately predict earthquakes. Geophysicist Paul Johnson has assembled a team to use machine learning to predict these natural disasters. Machine learning uses technology to track data and identify similarities and patterns that occur prior to an earthquake. AI technology will then be able to analyze these characteristics to preemptively detect earthquakes. Johnson’s team has successfully used AI to predict earthquakes in a controlled laboratory setting. This technology would allow the opportunity for civilians to evacuate prior to an earthquake, decreasing injury and loss of life.

The application of this technology will resultingly allow for improved personnel and resource management once the natural disaster is detected. AI technology can now use geospatial observations to identify locations where people may move to during the natural disaster. This will allow officials to accurately complete rescue missions and send supplies to people who have relocated.

This technology will also help model which areas will be most affected by a natural disaster. AI can predict which buildings and roads will sustain the most damage throughout the disaster. This knowledge allows officials to re-route resources and response personnel to more appropriate areas. AI modeling will result in faster response times and more strategic access to affected areas.

McKinsey and Co. is an organization that uses technology to aid disaster relief efforts as a part of its Change That Matters initiative. McKinsey and Company’s AI uses satellite data and an algorithm to assess the damages sustained to a certain area. This allows for the responsible distribution of resources to help rebuild vital community services such as schools and medical facilities.

AI and Poverty Relief

AI is a tool that can be applied to many areas of life. The use of technology and AI is crucial in predicting natural disasters and improving aid responses after the disaster. These abilities and their effects lead AI to have the potential to play a major role in decreasing the number of people who are forced into poverty due to natural disasters.

– Laura Embry
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