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Disasters

How change happens (or doesn’t) in the humanitarian system

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been in Stockholm this week [February 13-17] at the invitation of ALNAP, the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action, which has been holding its annual meeting on the banks of a frozen Swedish river. I was asked to comment on the background paper for the meeting, Changing Humanitarian Action?, by ALNAP’s Paul Knox-Clarke.  I read the paper on the flight over (great believer in Just in Time working practices….) with mounting excitement. It’s a brilliant, beautifully written intro to how change happens (or doesn’t) in the aid business, and to a lot of different schools of thought about change.

The paper starts off with the widespread frustration in the humanitarian sector. Despite dozens of new initiatives, impressive sounding statements and resolutions, and endless organizational change processes, ‘everything has changed, but nothing has changed’ in the words of one African humanitarian veteran.  Changes include an avalanche of information technology, the rise of cash programming, geopolitical shifts towards new donors, growth in the number and size of humanitarian emergencies, organizations and the budgets allocated to them. Yet still people ‘did not see these ‘big’ changes as having made a real difference to the lives of people affected by crisis.’ So the paper is as much as study in how change doesn’t happen as how it does.

The bit of the paper that really grabbed me was the succinct summary of three conventional models of change that underpin humanitarian thinking, and three new ones that could shed new light. None of them are definitive; all contribute to a deeper understanding.

Media (R)evolutions: The world of messaging apps

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

The number of people using messaging apps continues to rise. In fact, traditional global telecoms are scrambling to compete and maintain relevance. In some parts of the world messaging apps have become the most used apps overall.

According to data (using Android App Data: April 2016) from Similar Web out of 187 countries examined, WhatsApp was the most popular messaging app, becoming the global leader by claiming the top spot in 109 countries. Findings from Global Web Index (GWI) suggest that 3 in 4 WhatsApp users use the service daily, helping this messaging app claim the title for the highest usage frequency of all the messaging apps tracked by GWI. Although Facebook Messenger came in second place, claiming 49 countries, it remains to be one of the most powerful platforms for companies to reach their customers. Third in line was Viber, with 10 countries. LINE messaging app took fourth place.
 

Source: SimilarWeb
 

Data responsibility: a new social good for the information age

Stefaan Verhulst's picture

As climate change intensifies, catastrophic, record-setting natural disasters look increasingly like the “new normal” – from Hurricane Matthew killing at least 1,300 people in September to Typhoon Lionrock, the previous month, causing flooding that left 138 dead and more than 100,000 homeless in North Korea.

What steps can we take to limit the destruction caused by natural disasters? One possible answer is using data to improve relief operations.

Let’s look at the aftermath of the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake, the worst to hit Nepal in over 80 years. Nearly 9,000 people were killed, some 22,000 injured, hundreds of thousands were rendered homeless and entire villages were flattened.

Yet for all the destruction, the toll could have been far worse.

Without in any way minimising the horrible disaster that hit Nepal that day, I want to make the case that data — and, in particular, a new type of social responsibility — helped Nepal avoid a worse calamity. It may offer lessons for other disasters around the world.

In the wake of the Nepal disaster, a wide variety of actors – from government, civil society and the private sector alike – rushed in to address the humanitarian crisis. One notable player was Ncell, Nepal’s largest mobile network operator. Shortly after the earthquake, Ncell decided to share its mobile data (in an aggregated, de-identified way) with the the non-profit Swedish organisation, Flowminder.
 

Parts of the aid system just don’t work – the dismal cycle of humanitarian response

Duncan Green's picture

Every now and then an email stops me in my tracks, reminding me that Oxfam is stuffed full of bright, motivated, altruistic people. Here’s one I got a few weeks ago from Debbie Hillier, one of our Humanitarian Policy Advisers, in response to my request for thoughts on the state of the aid business. Her views are fleshed out in ‘A Preventable Crisis’, a new report published this week:
 

"Hi Duncan,

Here is a current example of how the aid system doesn’t work.

El Niño events and other droughts are forecast months in advance.  There is of course some uncertainty in the forecasts, but nonetheless, there is often a high probability of a natural hazard.  And with major droughts/El Niño/La Niña, these can affect many millions of people.

So there are situations of high probability and high impact – like the current El Niño.  And these are situations where we know what the solutions are. There are far fewer complicating political factors than in conflict – we know what to do.

If this was the private sector, there would be a significant response at this point. However the aid system does not work like this.

Blog post of the month: Mapping Nepal after the earthquake

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In April 2015, the featured blog post is "Media (R)evolutions: Mapping Nepal after the earthquake".

On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, rattling the country and affecting 8 million people across 39 districts, with a quarter of those in the worst affected areas. More than 5,000 people have been confirmed dead so far.

Relief agencies are now in the country, providing supplies, administering medical treatment, and searching for survivors. In an effort to support disaster responders, teams of volunteers around the world are scouring through thousands of high-resolution satellite images to provide those on the ground with as much information as possible so they can do their jobs most effectively.

Many of these so-called “crisis mappers” are untrained volunteers who compare before and after images of the affected areas to tag buildings that have collapsed, roads that are blocked, and areas of heavy debris. This provides crucial information to disaster response teams on the ground.

The people of Nepal have also been utilizing other tools to locate missing family and friends, identify themselves as safe, and find rescue and gathering places where help can be obtained.

Here are a few of the initiatives underway:Nepal Earthquake: Before And After In Kathmandu

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 
Freedom of the Press 2015
Freedom House
Freedom of the Press 2015, the latest edition of an annual report published by Freedom House since 1980, found that global press freedom declined in 2014 to its lowest point in more than 10 years. The rate of decline also accelerated drastically, with the global average score suffering its largest one-year drop in a decade. The share of the world’s population that enjoys a Free press stood at 14 percent, meaning only one in seven people live in countries where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.  The steepest declines worldwide relate to two factors: the passage and use of restrictive laws against the press—often on national security grounds—and the ability of local and foreign journalists to physically access and report freely from a given country, including protest sites and conflict areas. Paradoxically, in a time of seemingly unlimited access to information

The Path to Happiness: Lessons From the 2015 World Happiness Report
Huffington Post
Getting richer but not happier: It's a familiar story, for people and for nations. The purpose of the World Happiness Report, now in its third edition for 2015, is to remind governments, civil society, and individuals that income alone cannot secure our well-being. True happiness depends on social capital, not just financial capital. The evidence is straightforward. Around the world Gallup International asks people about their satisfaction with life. "Imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand?" Countries differ widely, and systematically, in their average scores. Using these scores, it is then possible to determine, statistically, the causes of life satisfaction around the world.
 

Media (R)evolutions: Mapping Nepal after the earthquake

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, rattling the country and affecting 8 million people across 39 districts, with a quarter of those in the worst affected areas. More than 5,000 people have been confirmed dead so far.

Relief agencies are now in the country, providing supplies, administering medical treatment, and searching for survivors.  In an effort to support disaster responders, teams of volunteers around the world are scouring through thousands of high-resolution satellite images to provide those on the ground with as much information as possible so they can do their jobs most effectively.

Many of these so-called “crisis mappers” are untrained volunteers who compare before and after images of the affected areas to tag buildings that have collapsed, roads that are blocked, and areas of heavy debris.  This provides crucial information to disaster response teams on the ground.

The people of Nepal have also been utilizing other tools to locate missing family and friends, identify themselves as safe, and find rescue and gathering places where help can be obtained.

Here are a few of the initiatives underway:

#4 from 2014: How User-Generated Crisis Maps Save Lives in Disasters

Jing Guo's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on February 26, 2014

 

YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, blogs… This list could easily go on and on for paragraphs. Today, we are so immersed in social media that we can hardly go a day without reading or watching user-generated online content. Videos like “Charlie Bit My Finger” make us laugh. Free lessons on Khan Academy, which were originally started by a hedge fund analyst at home, help us learn.

But user-generated online content is not all about entertainment and free classes. Crisis maps on crowd-sourcing platforms like OpenStreetMap and Ushahidi have demonstrated a less expected yet significant capacity of user-led content creation online:  it saves lives in disasters.

Campaign Art: #WorldHumanitarianDay

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

World Humanitarian Day, celebrated on August 19, seeks to raise awareness around the important activity of humanitarian workers, as well as the dangers that they face.

This year's campaign featured the theme "The world needs more Humanitarian Heroes" and a call from popular personalities to show support for humanitarians by tweeting with the hashtags #humanitarianheroes and #theworldneedsmore.  A new platform, Messengers of Humanity, was also launched to encourage individuals to become members of an online community where they can share images, important facts and figures, opportunities to get involved, and messages of hope. 
 
World Humanitarian Day 2014: Voices from the Field

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Net Threats
Pew Research Internet Project
As Internet experts look to the future of the Web, they have a number of concerns. This is not to say they are pessimistic: The majority of respondents to this 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing say they hope that by 2025 there will not be significant changes for the worse and hindrances to the ways in which people get and share content online today. And they said they expect that technology innovation will continue to afford more new opportunities for people to connect. Still, some express wide levels of concern that this yearning for an open Internet will be challenged by trends that could sharply disrupt the way the Internet works for many users today as a source of largely unfettered content flows.
 
Good Governance- A Sustainable Development Goal Too Essential To Be Side-lined
Huffington Post
What do the public in the USA, UK, France and Germany consider the greatest impediment to global development? According to new research by the Gates Foundation and partners released at the InterAction forum last month called the Narrative Project, the answer is corruption. Additionally, a recent Gallup poll showed that, around the world, satisfaction with "freedom" is inversely proportional to the perception of corruption in a given country. The answer to corruption is good governance, at the national and local levels. But governance goes well beyond just stopping corruption. It is the cornerstone of individual freedom, political participation, secures the rights of the individual and the media, and makes politicians accountable to their constituencies.

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