UN Improves Responses to Humanitarian Crises

The article Improving UN Responses to Humanitarian Crisesby the UN Chronicle  documents the efforts that have been made to improve responses to complex humanitarian crises, including how they plan on incorporating new technologies into that improved effort. It talks about the two different phases that made up this effort:

1) Improving Coordination- one of the huge issues in humanitarian crises is that everyone responds at the same time, with similar intentions for what they do to alleviate suffering, with little coordination to figure out what is already being addressed and what still needs attention. The UN tried to remedy this by creating a humanitarian “cluster” system in 2005; this cluster consisted of UN agencies, NGO’s, and IGO’s. Within these organizations, each would be assigned a cluster: protection, camp coordination and management, water sanitation and hygiene, health, emergency shelter, nutrition, emergency telecommunications, logistics, early recovery, education and agriculture. Each cluster then coordinates with a main UN office for Humanitarian Affairs. These clusters are flawed in that the information they have is difficult to share, and their remains little coordination with the office of humanitarian affairs. Another huge problem is that many in the field were not aware that the clusters even existed, so they werent utilized for their specific function by many agencies on the ground.

2) This cluster system was especially proven to be flawed in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It was then that the United Nations Foundation, along with other partners published a report on Disaster Relief 2.0, or how new technologies would help make things like the cluster system more effective. These new technologies include crisis mapping (which we worked with in class this week), mobile technologies, geospatial data and active citizen-based reporting. All of these have played a role in improved quality of response and response time in disasters, but the mapping systems have been particularly useful. In Japan in 2011, crowdsource mapping played a huge role for relief workers as they tried to figure out their priorities for delivery of food, shelter and sanitation aid. Mapping was also used during the conflict in Libya to track fighting and the movement of refugees.

The UN report then continues to note how new technologies like the ones above not only are proving extremely useful in disaster settings, but also allow for new voices to play a role in disaster response. Through the use of new media and mapping sources, citizens and not just officials can play a role in reporting where and what needs help most immediately and urgently. The mapping that we plan to do for our final project is not only informative on how to use mapping systems like Open Street Map, also provide us with a skill that is becoming increasingly important in the aid world as a way to support official agencies on the ground.

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One response to “UN Improves Responses to Humanitarian Crises

  • cgalley

    Its encouraging to see that the UN is embracing ICT in their strategies, even if its a work in progress. You make a great point that our final project is teaching us a valuable skill that is timely and relevant to development work. We can even take that a step further and use our experiences in learning to use the software in class to anticipate some challenges which might come up when engaging local community members to use the same type of software to contribute to crisis mapping in disaster response.

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