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ICT is a huge enabler and source of empowerment, allowing individuals to take some, albeit limited, control of their own destiny within the chaotic framework of a crisis, natural disaster or post-conflict situation. From the SMS/text messages from the Haitian earthquake zone and refugees in Darfur to Rwandan farmers checking grain prices on-line, ICT provides a tool with which individuals can share and obtain information. In some cases this can mean the difference between life and death, economic survival or abject poverty. In turn, the compilation of all these pieces of data on crowd-sourcing platforms and other databases provides an overall picture of a given situation, which can be very useful to humanitarian responders and governments in times of crises, war, conflict and state-building.

Approaching humanitarian relief, with an increasing emphasis on ICT, brings with it hope for a better future but at the same time significant challenges. How can the humanitarian community and other actors physically assess the mountains of data that come in? What steps does the humanitarian community need to take in order to manage this process? How can the accuracy of the information coming into a given platform be validated, in particular in conflict situations where misinformation is often used as a weapon? How can individuals in conflict situations, who provide valuable information, be protected?

Another important series of issues also need to be discussed about the responsibility and role of technology providers. What responsibility do technology platform providers have? What happens when collected information cannot be acted on? How can the links between the information gathering and implementation be improved? How can responders ensure that new systems uphold the “do no harm” principle of the humanitarian community? What criteria exist, or should exist, for ICT providers (including crisis mappers and social media) to determine which crises they should address or “map”?

At the end of the day, the question remains as to whether or not we will be able to use improved ICT in such a way so as to significantly improve the situation for affected communities in crises. Does increased ICT ability and use really mean progress and reduced loss of life? To date, the jury is out but at a minimum new technology provides an opportunity to re-think how we respond to crises, how we prepare communities for disasters and we manage conflict and post-conflict situations.

Participants of CiMAG meeting

  • David Kaatrud, WFP
  • Andrew Alspach, OCHA
  • Kimberly Roberson, UNHCR
  • Shelley Gornall, UNHCR
  • Sanjana Hattotuwa, ICT4Peace
  • Barbara Weekes, ICT4Peace
  • Daniel Stauffacher, ICT4Peace, Chair

Read the full report here.