Improved data sharing would save lives during disasters, says United Nations

UN proposes information management training forum

A United Nations report into disaster relief calls for improved data sharing and technology collaboration between agencies to help save lives.

The report, "Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies", analyses how the humanitarian community, and the volunteer and technical communities worked together in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The report, supported by both the UN Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation, recommends ways to improve coordination between them in future emergencies.

"The challenge is to improve coordination between the structured humanitarian system and the relatively loosely organised volunteer and technical communities," said Valerie Amos, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator

Amos said, "Without direct collaboration with humanitarian organisations, volunteer and technical communities run the risk of mapping needs without being able to make sure that these needs can be met."

The report is based on interviews with more than 40 technology and humanitarian experts, many of whom responded to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It identifies best practice and lessons learned from the Haiti operation.

The report makes five framework recommendations:

-A neutral forum to explore areas of agreement and conflict between the international humanitarian system and the volunteer and technology communities

-A research and training consortium to evaluate work in the field and to train all sectors in best practices of information management

-A clear operational interface that outlines ways of collaborating before and during emergencies, with agreed procedures for communication, shared standards for data exchange and an understanding of roles, priorities and capabilities

-An innovation space where new tools and practices can be explored as experiments, "allowing for the failures that are a necessary component of learning new ways of working"

-A deployable field team with a mandate to deploy the best available tools and practices in the field

Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation, said, "Humanitarian crises from Libya to Japan remind us that fast and accurate information is imperative in effective emergency response efforts.

"Today's increased access to collaborative technologies and networks presents an important innovation milestone and an opportunity to rethink how data about urgent humanitarian needs are gathered, processed and shared."

The technology partnership between the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation was created in October 2005 with £10 million funding from the Vodafone Foundation and £5 million from the UN Foundation.

The partnership aims to strengthen communications in humanitarian emergencies though capacity building and support for disaster response missions, support the development of mobile health programmes, and promote research and innovation using technology as a tool for international development.

In other recent humanitarian technology news, relief workers in the most remote parts of the world are being given a low-cost way to communicate with colleagues, friends and families.

As a result of a partnership between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Skype, UNHCR staff members around the world can use a bespoke, low-bandwidth version of the Skype software to make cheap calls across 120 locations around the world.

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