With natural disasters like the recent earthquakes in Mexico and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria wreaking untold havoc, the question of how to improve humanitarian service delivery is all the more pertinent. Technology is quickly changing the way we respond to crises and will continue to transform our responses in the future.
According to the GSM Association, increased mobile connectivity is a lifeline that has made service delivery more efficient. Network operators can get in touch with anyone connected to a mobile device to warn them of incoming disasters and provide them with strategies to prepare for the worst. The rise of social media has given political leaders and news organizations similar powers to connect with their citizens and audiences.
In addition, mobile devices make humanitarian cash transfers easier—it is far more convenient and quicker to send digital money than cash—and improve access to energy. Especially in the developing world, many people live off the traditional “grid” but are covered by pay-as-you-go energy providers, who partner with mobile services, to ensure easy and orderly digital payments.
According to the World Economic Forum, robots are making a difference in how humanitarian aid is deployed, and they will likely do so to an even greater extent in the future. Certain areas become too dangerous during disasters for human responders to be able to assess needs or deliver aid, and robots (including drones) have the potential to mitigate that. Indeed, drones are currently being used, albeit in a limited manner.
With the number of people affected by humanitarian crises nearly doubling over the course of the past decade, technological solutions like these will be vital to minimizing the effects of the growing displacement crisis and the security risks and poverty it causes.
Gisli Rafn Olafsson believes one of the most important effects of technology on humanitarian service delivery is its potential to encourage a “bottom-up” approach that will soon replace the current, unwieldy “top-down” paradigm. With technology, the beneficiaries of humanitarian response can organize their own responses to wars and natural disasters rather than wait for help to arrive. A grassroots network is invariably the strongest tool and the best solution to improve humanitarian service delivery.
– Chuck Hasenauer