Highlights and Takeaways
From 21 - 22 March 2017, more than 200 humanitarian and technology leaders attended the Humanitarian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Forum at Google’s headquarters in California. Participants discussed innovations that can make humanitarian response more efficient, effective and responsive to affected people’s needs.
The Humanitarian ICT Forum is an annual meeting convened by OCHA in partnership with the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster. The 2017 meeting was made possible by O3b Networks and hosted by Google. Additional support was provided by SES, SAP, Microsoft, UltiSat and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
More than 2.7 billion people—almost 40 per cent of the world’s population—use social media. Humanitarian responders must understand how to communicate with affected people through social media, and they must learn how to use insights from social media to shape and improve humanitarian responses. In the coming months, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will support our partners to develop a best practices guide for the use of social media in humanitarian emergencies.
When disaster strikes, affected people need to be able to obtain life-saving information about emergency services in a language they understand. During the Humanitarian ICT Forum, technology partners and translation experts agreed to develop a common data set in which words that are often used in humanitarian emergencies, such as “nutrition” and “sanitation”, are translated into key languages. This data set will facilitate communications between affected people and humanitarian responders in high-risk countries.
Digital Payments and Digital Identification
Cash-based assistance is becoming a more significant part of emergency response, and humanitarian organizations must work with private sector actors and payment networks to get cash to affected people more efficiently. Humanitarians and private sector partners should work together to identify response options, advocate for enabling legislation, and build interoperable systems that maximize the benefits to recipients while upholding their privacy and security. At the Humanitarian ICT Forum, OCHA and our partners agreed to explore ways to deliver mobile money in high-risk countries; develop standby agreements with digital payment operators in targeted countries; and support the implementation of principles and best practices for digital humanitarian payments.
More than 1.5 billion people lack access to recognized proof of identity, making it difficult or impossible to open bank accounts, apply for Government services, or receive cash and other assistance during humanitarian emergencies. Humanitarian organizations have different systems for identifying beneficiaries, but these are rarely of use outside the specific project context. Efforts must be made to ensure that affected people have access to identification that can be used to access multiple services and remains relevant and recognized over time. As part of our advocacy to increase the use of digital payments in emergencies, OCHA will work with our partners to advocate for increased access to digital identification that is secure, durable and open-source.
Data Collection and Analysis
Humanitarian operations can become more efficient, effective and responsive to affected people’s needs if humanitarian responders learn how to mainstream data collection and analysis in emergency response. At the Humanitarian ICT Forum, representatives from the Centre for Humanitarian Data agreed with a wide range of stakeholders to support increased use of data as part of crisis response, including through the launch of a Humanitarian Data Fellows programme, which will increase the ability to understand and manipulate data to improve operations across the humanitarian system.
Crisis-affected people, as well as humanitarian responders, now rely on access to voice and data networks to communicate, seek assistance and provide feedback on humanitarian operations. The standard operating procedures for humanitarian planning and response must ensure that crisis-affected communities have access to emergency communications connectivity. OCHA is working with the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster and partners in the satellite and mobile phone industries to support resiliency planning in high-risk countries, and to ensure that access to phone and data networks is restored as quickly as possible following any conflict or natural disaster.
Updating Humanitarian Standards
Technology has become a core part of humanitarian operations, but currently there is no comprehensive guidance on the ethical deployment of technology and use of beneficiary data in humanitarian response. OCHA is committed to working with a wide range of stakeholders to update ethical guidance for humanitarians on the deployment and use of ICTs.