MSF Uses Virtual Reality to Build Better HospitalsMédecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders to the English-speaking world, is a global organization that provides professional medical care wherever poverty, war, disasters or otherwise raise a need. According to the group’s International Activity Report, 6.3 million donors funded 11.2 million outpatient consultations, 750,000 inpatients’ treatment and more than 100,000 major surgical interventions in 2018 alone. MSF consistently achieves a huge global impact. While generous donors and devoted staff are part of this success, the organization also improves its operations to ensure progress. MSF takes every opportunity to evolve and utilize resources more efficiently. Most recently, MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals.

Building Innovation

One such evolution began back in November 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. After providing several weeks of emergency support from tent hospitals, MSF determined the municipality of Guiuan needed a more permanent solution. Plans to build a transitional hospital quickly began, and four months later, the organization completed the sturdier facility for use.

Two years later, MSF found an opportunity for innovation. With the help of design firm Pyxis, MSF’s technical team built a 3D printed model of the Guiuan hospital. Designers then turned the same 3D layout into an interactive virtual landscape, which was explorable through a virtual reality (VR) headset. But why should MSF redesign plans for an already built hospital?

Benefits of Creating a 3D Printed Model

These steps were not just for novelty; they served as a proof-of-concept for an innovative approach to the construction process. Since then, MSF has used this innovative virtual reality technology to build better hospitals. The tangible nature of the 3D printed model promotes a more user-friendly design stage. Planners can clearly determine if the facility’s design suits the environment it will serve.

On a more granular level, doctors can also optimize the facility’s layout before people start laying the foundation. The most immersive VR model supports this aspect. Is the main corridor wide enough to accommodate high traffic? Are the sterile processing rooms, scrub sinks and operating rooms in a useful order, or would doctors have to retrace their steps in situations where seconds matter? These details are crucial to the efficiency of a finished hospital.

The worst crises also benefit from the new approach. For example, the World Health Organization named the current Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a global health emergency, and the Ebola outbreaks require a quick response and reliable facilities. In this case, the best health care facility is the one that is operable first. Virtual reality expedites the construction process. Designers can create and build more nuanced plans potentially months faster than with traditional blueprints.

MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals by improving and expediting the construction process. VR landscapes and 3D plans are easier to visualize, edit and share amongst MSF staff around the world. Better yet, adopting VR technology now only makes it easier for designers to utilize future innovations. CAVE-CAD software, for example, is one such advancement that would allow architects to make changes to VR schematics while still inside the virtual environment. One thing is for sure; Médecins Sans Frontières continues to receive positive attention for the care it provides. As for hospitals, if MSF builds it, those who need it will come.

– Molly Power
Photo: Flickr

Farming Communities
In 2013, the Philippines was struck by Typhoon Haiyan, wiping out the majority of its leading agricultural product: coconut palm trees. Nearly 33 million trees were left in ruins, inflicting economic strife upon Philippine farming communities.

Will Lauder, the founder of Kapuluan Coconut, initially had the purpose of visiting the Philippines for a surf trip before hearing about the typhoon. Following the news of the devastation left behind from the storm, Lauder adjusted his itinerary and traveled to the Philippines to offer relief by delivering clean water to affected communities. It was this first-hand experience that led Lauder to create Kapuluan Coconut as an initiative to restore the mass desolation of coconut palms on the island through a “One for One” program.

Although Filipino farming communities are a globally dominant source of coconut oil production, farmers live under exploitative working conditions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Of the three million coconut farmers within the industry, 60% live in extreme poverty. The quality and production of coconut oil have been compromised through industrialization processes, inflicting a type of “modern slavery” for coconut farmers.

Recognizing the reality of the coconut farming industry, Lauder created Kapuluan Coconut in order to restore the Philippines’ source of coconut palms, enhance the sustainability of farming conditions for coconut farmers and offer a coconut product with the finest quality.

Lauder argues, “everyone supports Fair Trade coffee; what about coconut?” With this, he implemented the “One for One” program which plants a palm tree for every Kapuluan Coconut product sold. As a result, jobs will be created for sustainable coconut oil farming thus providing an increase in prices, income, and job opportunities for Filipino communities.

Kapuluan Coconut’s efforts are to restore the “tree of life” that drives Filipino agriculture and to give back to local Filipino community organizations, such as the Lingap Center. This past December, Kapuluan donated $5 per sale to the Lingap Center for children, which offers assistance for children that have suffered from abuse, abandonment, and exploitation.

By subscribing to the email list, users will instantly receive a 10% discount on their first purchase while simultaneously helping to plant their first coconut tree. Through his experience and initiative efforts to help improve Philippine farming communities, Lauder says, “true happiness is… how helpful you are to people and to the world.”

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr

Extreme Weather Brings Demand for Financial Services in Disaster-Prone Regions
With global climate change causing increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters around the world, people in disaster-prone regions often find themselves without the resources to recover damaged property or develop increased resilience to future disasters. Those people are often left without the means of repaying high-interest loans or in a state of dependence on nonprofit organizations for access to basic necessities.

In November 2013, the Philippines was struck by Typhoon Haiyan, the most destructive storm to hit land on record. The storm resulted in the deaths of over 6,000 people and caused nearly $15 billion in structural damage, affecting the lives of over 4 million Filipinos. The city of Tacloban reported that 90% of its structures were either damaged or entirely destroyed, resulting in the displacement of thousands of civilians into surrounding areas. That damage included the devastation of entire livelihoods; the coconut industry, upon which many Filipinos depend for income, saw 80% of its crop base destroyed.

Such damage generally leaves relief for disaster victims to the discretion of external organizations and donor countries. But recent revelations about the lack of accountability in post-disaster aid operations like those in Haiti have raised doubts of the efficacy of such donations. This has presented a new challenge for development and relief organizations: how can people in disaster-prone regions decrease their reliance on relief aid and increase their capacity to recover lost property and resilience to future disasters?

After Typhoon Haiyan, Mercy Corps provided Filipinos with unconditional electronic cash transfers and access to long-term financial services in order to provide households and businesses more freedom to spend relief money. This allowed them to recover lost investments in addition to purchasing basic necessities like food and water. Unconditional relief also liberated recipients from the bondage of high-interest loans that they are often otherwise forced to pursue.

Beyond the immediacy of property recovery, financial services provide households and village-level businesses access to savings and insurance products to protect their families and investments from future disasters.

“[L]oans allow people to diversify their sources of income into ones that aren’t as prone to disaster damage. Insurance can help them access cash in the event of the death of a primary income earner, or if their property is destroyed,” wrote Mercy Corps workers Anna Chilczuk and Thea Anderson in an article for The Guardian. “And having savings means people have money to buy what they need immediately following an emergency.”

One example is affordable agriculture insurance, which helps rural farmers whose operations are threatened by conditions beyond their control, such as the coconut farmers in the Philippines. Because agriculture is the main source of income for many rural communities (over 2 billion people depend on “smallholder” farms for income), farmers often have to take out loans to maintain and invest in operations. Disasters like Typhoon Haiyan often leave them without the means for recovering lost investments or repaying high-interest loans. Insurance coverage for those farmers makes it more likely for credit to be extended to them on reasonable terms, increases their capacity to repair damaged land and promotes resilience to future disasters.

While regions like Southeast Asia are prone to natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, demand for access to long-term financial services provides an opportunity for American investors to establish a presence in those increasingly stable markets. As households and local businesses become more able to build resilience to future disasters and establish economic stability, those markets will become less vulnerable to natural disasters. That will allow civilians to become more financially autonomous and less dependent on the discretion of external donations from organizations like Mercy Corps.

– Zach VeShancey

Sources: The Guardian, Mercy Corps
Photo: VABAA

Martha and Waitstill Sharp had just arrived in Europe as representatives of the American Unitarian Association hoping to support activists fighting the Nazi Party and its policies. Only a few weeks after their arrival, they witnessed firsthand the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia. The couple spent the next five months helping as many people flee the country as they could. Artists, students, intellectuals and political leaders all made it to safety with the help of the Sharps. As they were en route to New York, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.

Martha and Waitstill returned to Europe in June of 1940 to continue their mission. Working mostly in conjunction with other agencies, it is estimated that the Sharps and the Unitarian Service Committee they were a part of saved between 1,000 and 3,000 lives. The USC was formed by the American Unitarian Association as a “committee to investigate opportunities both in America and abroad . . . for humanitarian service as may in its judgment seem desirable and wise,” according to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee website.

While the Unitarians were working in Prague and later France to evacuate endangered people, Universalists were working in Holland. In 1940, the Universalist Board of Trustees had established a special committee to channel financial aid to Holland.

After the war, Unitarians and Universalists ran a post-war relief program in Holland, as well as an adolescents’ shelter in Verden, Germany. This was the closest the two organizations worked before they became the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in 1963.

Today, UUSC is on the forefront of many humanitarian battles. It advocates for compassionate consumption by educating people about the ethical practices of the companies they’re buying from. It works for universally affordable clean water in America and abroad by supporting legislation which guarantees access to water. The UUSC humans rights for those most likely to be denied them, either because of race, gender, orientation or religion.

After Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the UUSC launched a special crisis fund focused around survivors who were most likely not to receive the same aid as other victims. The UUSC intends to ensure that every person gets the aid they need with the dignity they deserve.

As the mission statement from website put it, “UUSC advances human rights and social justice around the world, partnering with those who confront unjust power structures and mobilizing to challenge oppressive policies.” The UUSC is a force for good, and has been since the days of hiding students from the Nazis.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: UU World, UUSC
Photo: UUSC Flickr

On November 8, 2013, the strongest storm ever to make landfall hit nine regions of the Philippines, leaving upwards of 11 million people to suffer in its wake.

Typhoon Haiyan was underestimated by both local and national officials and wound up decimating numerous cities, equipped with a low number of emergency supplies and a general lack of planning. For nearly 24 hours, officials in the city of Tacloban had no way to even call for help. Though the strength of the storm was grossly underestimated, neighboring nations still kept out a watchful eye, and once word got out from the regions most affected, emergency relief efforts came rushing to provide aid for those affected.

The Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) had an immediate response being reactive on the ground two days post-typhoon with three bases in Northern Leyte, Eastern Samar and Davao. It was one of the first NGOs in Guiuan to meet emergency needs for those affected. Since the disaster, ACTED has continued to focus on community-led recovery and development by responding to two major needs: water hygiene and sanitation access and housing reconstruction.

ACTED provides the following data on the work they have been engaged in throughout the past year:

  • Water: 30,000 people have improved access to safe water.
  • Sanitation: 30,000 people have improved access to adequate sanitation services and facilities.
  • Information: 42,286 people participated in information sessions to prevent water-related diseases and hygiene promotion activities.
  • Healthy schools: 4,633 children have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in their learning environment; they also participated in hygiene promotion sessions.

In addition, ACTED has joined efforts with ShelterBox, an international disaster relief charity, to support 300 families in rebuilding their homes, providing housing material, training local carpenters and mobilizing communities to build houses using safer techniques. Thus far, 71 households received shelter materials, 841 people attended workshops and 30 carpenters were trained.

Typhoon Haiyan left millions of people displaced in the aftermath of a disaster. A year later, families continue to struggle to rebuild their lives even with the aid of others.

And when Typhoon Hagupit hit, ACTED was ready for a quick response.

After the first sign of its arrival, ACTED teams took every measure to be prepared in responding to emergency needs, stocking on food, water, fuel, petrol and other essential items. They also set up evacuation centers with food and access to toilets at the ready.

As a result of the advanced planning, thousands of people were evacuated to safe places like schools, but Typhoon Hagupit nevertheless brought about disaster to homes and even to areas that still haven’t recovered from the previous typhoon only a year ago.

In the immediate aftermath of both Typhoon Haiyan and Typhoon Hagupit, ACTED teams have positioned themselves across the country to access the extent of the damage and the type of response that will need to be carried out to support locals in rebuilding their lives. Currently, they are bringing sustainable efforts, such as building the capacity of farmers, supporting farmers’ organizations and facilitating linkages with markets.

ACTED’s vocation is to support vulnerable populations affected by natural disasters, wars, economic and social crises, and more. They are committed to addressing the needs across the globe with a multidisciplinary approach that can be adapted to any context. Implementing about 260 programs per year, ACTED seeks to cover the multiple aspects of humanitarian and development crises in the following fields: emergency relief, food security, health promotion, education and training, economic development, microfinance, advocacy and institutional support, and cultural promotion.

Their work is quietly, yet effectively accomplishing UN Millennium Development Goals in these days of crisis in the Philippines.

– Chelsee Yee

Sources: ACTED 1, ACTED 2, InterAction
Photo: NBC

During the 1951 Refugee Convention, the international community agreed upon and defined the word “refugee.” Article One calls him or her a person who has left their country, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

But events of the last century have shown this definition inadequate. Some flee severe poverty and lack of economic opportunity. Some seek access to clean water, a consistent source of food or much needed health care. Many are forced from their homes by natural disasters. These people are called climate change refugees.

The UNHCR reports that in the last 20 years, the number of natural disasters per year has doubled and now sits at 400. Nine-tenths of natural disasters are climate related.

The organization breaks disasters into categories.

Hydro-meteorological disasters are floods, hurricanes, mudslides, etc. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines and displaced nearly 4 million people. But they remained in the country, and the typhoon had not been after their freedom of speech or religion. Technically, the victims did not fall under the purview of the UNHCR. Still, aid was provided.

Second are zones designated ‘high-risk’ by their governments. Third is the sinking of landmasses, for the most part, small islands.

Fourth is “environmental degradation.” Deforestation and desertification, a reduction in available water, flooding and salinization of coastal areas are all included. For communities affected by climate change, especially those whose economies are agriculture-based, any one of these could be devastating.

Last is conflict caused by a change in availability of essential resources, namely water, land and food.

In 2010, over 42 million people were forced from their homes by natural disasters, sometimes across international lines. In response to the great number of migrant peoples affected by natural disasters, the UNHCR has had to reconsider its role in emergency relief.

The Nansen Initiative recommends vulnerable communities have an exit strategy in case of disaster. IRIN recently reported on Sebana-Demale, an Ethiopian village in an active, volcanic region. Combined with an utter lack of rain, living in Sebana-Demale is difficult. But in 15 years, it could be impossible.

So, according to the Initiative, people of Sebana-Demale and villages like it should be prepared to move. The Ethiopian government, as well as area states, should be ready to integrate the newly displaced population.

Favoring the-end-is-nigh rhetoric, the media and public interest have often ignored the humanitarian crises created by climate change. When they do, they ignore those now called climate change refugees.

— Olivia Kostreva

Sources: UNHCR, UNICEF, IRIN, Huffington Post
Photo: Treehugger

Typhoon Haiyan
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines and devastated hospitals, schools and other public services. With an estimated $12 billion in damages, the disaster killed at least 6,300 people, displaced more than 4 million and destroyed 500,000 homes.

Six months later, the nation continues to work toward long-term recovery, but there have been clear immediate achievements. Most children are back in school, roads have been cleared of debris, 15 percent of homes have been repaired, nearly all hospitals have been reopened and over 120,000 households have received assistance to rebuild damages.

Of the 14 million people affected by Typhoon Haiyan, 6 million lost their jobs. The United Nations, various NGO partners and the rest of the international humanitarian community have helped accelerate the progress of reconstruction and recover long-lasting sources of income. In the meantime, a number of short-term initiatives have been implemented as well. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and several of its partners have helped many Filipinos find short-term employment, job training and micro-enterprise support. Immediately after the typhoon, the UNDP also offered cash-for-work opportunities for those who helped with debris and waste removal in affected areas. Additionally, of the 42,000 people who have secured temporary jobs through the UNDP’s early recovery program in the Visayas, 35 percent are women.

However, millions of Filipinos still require urgent assistance. More than 5,000 households live in evacuation centers. Those who depend on agriculture and fishing for their incomes are suffering as well. The UNDP estimates that over 1 million farming families are in danger of losing their livelihoods. Nearly 33 million coconut trees – which are one of the nation’s leading crops – have been damaged or destroyed, and around two-thirds of the fishing community has been affected by the typhoon, primarily due to the loss of fishing boats. To help alleviate the issue of damaged coconut trees in Roxas and Ormoc, the UNDP has provided six mobile sawmills and funds to support emergency employment, allowing many to generate quick sources of income from processing and distributing the lumber of damaged coconut trees.

In order to lessen the impact of future disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, the Filipino government is planning to implement more sustainable reconstruction strategies. Recently, more than 150 delegates came together at the Asia-Europe Meeting Manila Conference to discuss new policies for disaster preparation. Margareta Wahlström, a special representative from the United Nations, has supported President Aquino’s policy to “build back better” with new technologies and innovations. Other points of discussion during the conference included improving policies to rebuild communities, strengthening the state and other stakeholders and managing international coordination while responding to disasters. The delegates at the conference also toured Barangay Pago, a resettlement area that shelters 40 displaced families, and the Bislig Elementary School in Tanauan.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark has stated that full recovery could take over a decade for the Philippines. The UNDP has urged the international community to make long-term engagements that address “crises that could deepen inequality and poverty.” In addition to rebuilding physical buildings and structures, the Philippines must take measures to strengthen its resilience against future emergencies and natural disasters.

– Kristy Liao

Sources: India Blooms, UNDP, UNOCHA
Photo: U.N.

Haiyan Recovery in Philippines Ongoing
More than half a year since a typhoon rocked the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people and displacing millions, Haiyan recovery efforts are still ongoing. Tens of thousands of Filipinos continue to live in temporary shelters. An estimated 17,000 fishermen have been unable to replace boats destroyed in the storm, and thousands of acres of damaged farmlands hamper production in the agricultural sector.

Although typhoons regularly affect the region, this particular storm, known locally as Yolanda, drew international attention for its widespread effect. Via its Food- and Cash-for-Assets Programme, the World Food Programme, in partnership with the national and local Filipino governments, provides aid to Filipinos who are repairing destroyed lands. The deforestation caused by the storm poses a grave obstacle to agricultural recovery.

The WFP helps the local powers distribute many forms of aid—like meals to over 100,000 school children—to the near 12 million victims of the storm. It has slowly begun to increase the national government’s responsibilities.

With over $14 million given toward the last budget, the U.S. is the number one donor to the WFP in the Haiyan recovery efforts. Still, the Programme claims a $75 million deficit in funding needed to satisfy its purpose, and reenergizing agriculture in the Philippines will require years to regrow the millions of felled coconut trees.

The Philippine crisis has calmed with the passing months, but a shortage of water and the pending El Niño raise humanitarian concern. Reacting to these problems and properly preparing for future natural disasters may strain the government, which is at present dealing with its pork barrel scandal—in late 2013, Filipinos discovered that government officials had, through the Priority Development Assistance Fund, misused the equivalent of $226 million on projects aimed solely at gaining votes. Many of these projects never existed.

Increased WFP support and national pressure against government corruption could well serve a country whose capital, Manila, represents the city with the highest number of homeless in the world. Until then, the poor wait.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: WFP 1, WFP 2, WFP 3, Reuters, Financial News, Thomson Reuters, Al Jazeera
Photo: AU News

It’s been more than 100 days after the devastating Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and recovery efforts are still underway for those who have been displaced from their homes.

The storm, one of the most powerful ever recorded, hit the archipelago on November 8th, killing nearly 6,000 people and displacing 4.1 million.

A government-led recovery effort, known as the Strategic Response Plan (SRP), was launched following the typhoon. The plan covers the next twelve months and requires $788 million, of which 45% has already been received.

Along with these typhoon recovery efforts, the United Nations and its affiliated partners have helped to provide food, medicine, water, and sanitation and hygiene assistance to those affected. Tents and tarpaulins have been distributed to approximately 500,000 families, but many more still remain without shelter.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Philippines, Luiza Carvalho notes that, “the need for durable shelter for millions of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed is critical.”

In Tacloban, a city of 250,000, major typhoon recovery efforts have been underway to pump money back into the local economies. Coconut farmers and fishermen represent the backbone of the economy in this area but their livelihoods have been severely threatened by the storm. In response, the UN development programme has recently implemented both short-term and long-term plans to help farmers get back on their feet.

Oxfam has noted that the Filipino government has been slow to deliver funds for agricultural and reconstruction support.

Thanks to generous donor contributions, great things have been achieved in the relief phase of the recovery effort. In the coming weeks, it is critical that the international community continues to provide support to those whose lives have been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

In a recent UN statement, Carvalho noted, “the Filipino people should be commended for the pace of progress that we have seen in the first 100 days. But we cannot afford to be complacent.”

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian, UN
Photo: Aljazeera

It has been one month since the devastating Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines. A report from the charity Oxfam has discovered that even in this time, millions of victims are still dependent upon emergency aid.

From this catastrophe, millions of individuals were displaced, with over 5,600 people being killed. From the report conducted by Oxfam, “four million people are still in need of shelter, while three million are still surviving from food aid.”

Within the first few weeks of the disaster, $400 million worth of aid was promised, with Australia alone committing $30 million alone. However, it will take more than monetary participation to get the Philippines back on its feet.

Long-term recovery, according to Oxfam, is what is dire in order for the Philippines to see a sustainable improvement. Relocating communities to areas that are less stricken by natural disasters, building resilience and preparation in communities are what is needed to obtain stability.

Each year, the Philippines is hit by a average of 20 typhoons with winds reaching speeds of 315 kph. Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda was by far the most devastating in the Philippines history. With climate disasters increasing, many fear that Typhoon Haiyan is only the tip of the iceberg.

In light of this fear, reliable sustainability is needed now, more than ever.With the emergency aid being provided to the Philippines, many errors within the United States Emergency aid program have been highlighted. Currently, emergency aid program reforms are under debate by Congress.

As the USAID purchases majority of their supplies locally with the aid funds, it will mean that the monetary assistance with go less far. According to the Inter Press Service News Agency, USAID has been able to access a contingency fund, but doing so now will great a dent in that fund for the remainder of the fiscal year.

This past spring, President Obama called for a total renovation of the U.S. Food Aid delivery system. Regardless of much of its bipartisan support, the bill was unable to receive much of the backing necessary to pass through the Senate.

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill are being worked out by means of a special committee. The farm bill is projected to successfully make it into law, once the differences are discussed.

The Senate bill would enable a “funding tool to facilitate local purchasing at around $350 million.” In 2008, this was a pilot project that was began in the hopes of stepping up USAID.

Eric Munoz, a senior policy advisor with the humanitarian group, Oxfam American, said, “What’s happening in the Philippines should be a touchstone for members of Congress and the responses that USAID has provided, in thinking about what is necessary in addressing natural disasters.”

Samaria Garrett

Sources: IPS News, ABC Net