AIDF Global Summit held recently gathered together NGO Community to discuss humanitarian assistance from communication, technical and financial points of view.  The agenda was developed in consultation with the World Bank, UN OCHA, Red Cross, USAID, World Vision, and UNOPS, say the organizers. I was fortunate to get access thanks to the Atlas Corps network. Here are my notes.

“Connectivity is itself a way of help”

At AIDF Global Summit last week there was a talk about the role of communications and how it can help when disaster strikes, especially at disaster-prone regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean.

The preparedness is a key stage, panelists agreed. NGO has to have techs and people trained to deploy to the disaster. By planning in advance, organizations also learn how much capacity is required to respond once it unfolds. However, preparation programs are always underfunded as it’s harder to show ROI in comparison to immediate relief programs when disaster is on every screen. To attract more funds and persuade donors, it is recommended to constantly show what’s going on at the place even at good times.

Another useful tool is cooperation with local players because they can react more quickly and start helping almost immediately while foreign NGOs must take their time to bring people, technologies, and programs to the field. It is possible to shorten the response time, though, if necessary equipment could be put in a backpack to avoid additional issues at the borders. 

One of the major technology to help is a satellite. When a hurricane happens and nothing works on the surface, satellites are still working in the space. How they can be used?

  • Set communication channels
  • Check what roads are available 
  • Locate nearest hospital facilities
  • Help people to reconnect with loved ones. David Meltzer, Secretary-General of GVF, describes this as ‘biological necessity like water or food’.

The aftermath of a disaster is always pure chaos. By re-establishing communications, you set a base for everything else.

Go local

Dr. Eric James, Executive Director of Field Ready, shared some statistics on logistics in times of emergency:

  • 60-80% of a program budget is spent on logistics in one form or another. Going locally would make it faster, cheaper and more efficient.
  • The cost of the program is reduced to 50-90% with this approach. What is more, NGOs are able to respond in hours/days rather than weeks/months.. 

Shaping Public Health Through SMS

The government of Liberia launched a pilot program: the health workforce was instructed to exchange text messages with the Ministry of Health and locals during the Ebola outbreak. As part of it, they gathered rumors regarding the disease and sent this information to NGOs. NGOs further addressed it on TV or radio, inviting trusted local experts to dispel rumors and educate the population.