Cross posted and abridged from original article on the Aid & International Development Forum (AIDF) website.
The seventh annual AIDF Global Disaster Relief Summit was held in Washington D.C. on the 10th and 11th of September at the Ronal Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The two day summit had more than 350 participants representing NGOs, UN agencies, donors, governments, military personnel, academia and the private sector. The topics discussed this year were security and logistics, health and WASH, ICT and data, and field operations for disaster response and management.
The second day of the Summit kicked off with a keynote speech by former Ambassador William J. Garvelink, who now serves as Senior Advisor on Global Strategy at International Medical Corps and at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ambassador Garvelink commemorated the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. He set the scene for the day’s streams on ICT & data and field operations 7 camp management, remarking ‘a displaced person will be displaced for 17 years on average.’ He also highlighted the need for partnerships within the disaster relief community ‘None of us, donor governments, United Nations agencies, International Organizations, NGOs or the private sector can respond to all these emergencies and meet all of the needs. But together, if we coordinate our emergency programs and improve our interagency communications before, during, after our emergency responses, we may be able to meet the most urgent needs of this population and lay the groundwork for recovery and resilience’.
This was further discussed by the first panel of the day: Innovations in Emergency Coordination & Social Networks,moderated by Keith Robertory, Director of Disaster Logistics Support at the American Red Cross. By 2020 there will be 2.9 billion smartphones in the developing world; use of digital aid will become an ever more increasing strategy for aid response. Innovation of new social platforms is necessary to best reach people most affected by disaster. The panel started with a definition of innovation by Kidus Fisaha Asfaw, Global Product Manager of UNICEF’s Innovation Center, as ’how you can do something new and different in a way that adds concrete value. Not just tech’ before sharing their new app and open-source platform Rapid-Pro. This was further discussed by Dwayne Myal, Medical Planning Specialist at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency, who stated 'We have to continue that culture of collaboration, even with non-conventional partners', and Nada El Marji, Director of Aid & Development, Enterprise Channel & Portfolio Development at Inmarsat, who addressed the role satellite communication does and can play for disaster response. UNICEF’s Kidus Asfaw stressed ‘Do no harm. We often think about solutions but not how they affect the people and their environments’.
Further looking at new innovations to improve and accelerate disaster response, Josh Miner, Director of Product Management, and his colleague Joel Thompson, Vice President & General Manager of the Terrestrial Business Unit of Iridium Satellite presented a case study called about their Push-to-Talk innovation and its global applications for humanitarian and disaster relief scenarios. With only 30% of the population have no access to 3G cellular coverage; this case study highlighted the benefit of satellite communication during a disaster response as even less 3G coverage would be available.
The conference was again split into parallel sessions: ICT & Data and then Field operations. The first ICT & Data panel focused on Better Communication with Communities. The moderator Gianluca Bruni, Chief of IT Emergency Coordination Branch, Emergency Telecommunications Cluster of the UN World Food Programme noted the importance of communicating in a disaster ‘Before looking for food and water after a disaster, people need to communicate with each other’. Paul Margie, the U.S. Representative of Télécoms sans Frontières (TSF) explained that with the new focus on affected communities and recognition of their role as first responders, TSF has been providing communication access and services to affected communities over the past years, especially sharing their experience in the recent Nepal emergency. Christian Clark, Global Advocacy Advisor of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs expanded on the World Humanitarian Summit theme of empowering local actors, commenting: ‘Access to information is a human right. Refugees need to have a free access to truthful information’. Larry Engelbert, Vice President of Land Mobile Sales at Satcom Direct, was representing the private sector in this discussion and talked about different voice and data solutions available during initial phases of deployment and how theycould be better used to engage with local communities. And Justin Richmond, Founder of IMPL, followed up on this discussing how data is becoming a ‘game changer’ to demonstrate impact and for including communities in M&E strategies.
The panel Electronic Payment Models for Aid Operations emphasized the trend and need for digital payments during and after an emergency where access to actual money can be difficult. The panel agreed that digital money doesn't replace cash but provides a necessary and safe alternative. This was discussed in great detail by Hamilton McNutt, Technical Advisor of Payment Innovations for NetHope, Nandini Harihareswara, Senior Digital Finance Advisor at USAID’s Digital Development Division, Jeremy Cole, Director at Red Rose, Dominic Duru, Solutions Lead for NGOs at Ebury, and Eleanor Nagy, Senior Director of Humanitarian & Emergency Affairs at World Vision International. The panel examined different payment models and solutions, how to choose the right partners and manage the transition. One big focus of the discussion - bringing together private sector, first responder and donor – was the topic of public private collaboration around investment in preparedness; the aim was to create a better understanding of who the key stakeholders are and how to engage with them in exploring partnerships
Meanwhile in the other room the Field Operations stream looked at Safety of Crisis-Affected Population. Ben Parker, Co-founder and Chief Executive of IRIN moderated the discussion on the safety and support of at-risk groups, including children, women, elderly, disables and minorities. Ann Erb- Leoncavello, Communications Advisor of the Humanitarian Response Branch at the United Nations Population Fund set the scene with a passionate speech on the safety concerns and solutions, also bringing in some physical props to engage the audience. This topi has become increasingly more important as the Syrian refugee crisis intensifies. Vahid Jahangiri, Deputy Director of International Lifeline Fund, declared ‘We cannot have refugees who simply exist. They need to live. How do we develop a holistic strategy? And Corinne Hart, Director of Gender and Humanitarian Programs at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves suggested that a way to create a better quality of life in camps is to priorities access to energy sources ‘Energy is an area that is really missing among the complex elements being addressed in refugee camps’.