What is it?
Digital technologies are a key enabler in delivering effective and timely humanitarian aid. They allow aid organisations to improve collaboration and communication, deliver aid more efficiently, and make the emergency response targeted to the needs of the beneficiaries.
Why is this important?
The humanitarian sector is increasingly testing and adopting digital technologies to improve the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian operations, in line with the Grand Bargain commitments.
Digital technologies directly affect people in need of humanitarian assistance by giving them a voice and providing them with access to information and services.
At the same time, the digital divide is still vast. According to the 2020 ITU report on digital development, by the end of 2019, just over 50% of the world population was using the internet. This means that 3.7 billion people, of which 369 million young people, were still not being connected to the internet.
The divide is particularly high across gender and between developed and least developed countries. Additionally, data protection is a particular concern in light of the sensitivity of some humanitarian data.
Data protection concerns must be addressed and common standards developed, while ensuring interoperability of systems and non-sensitive data sharing. The aim is to bolster efficiency and effectiveness in humanitarian assistance.
How are we helping?
As one of the world's largest aid donors, the European Commission’s department for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations helps coordinate and support sector-wide initiatives to develop norms and standards around digitalisation.
As an emergency management organisation, it has supported the deployment of new technologies to improve the cost-effectiveness of humanitarian interventions and focus aid on where the needs are greatest.
Cash-based assistance has been an entry point for digitalisation in the humanitarian sphere. Cash can now be delivered securely, often based on biometric data and through a range of systems such as financial service providers and mobile phones. This ensures that humanitarian aid directly reaches people in need in a timely manner.
To respond to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, EU partners involved in education projects employed new technologies. The aim is to find creative ways to engage with the children by using messaging and distance learning modalities.
The European Union's Emergency Management Service Copernicus provides all actors involved in the management of natural hazards and human-made disasters, emergencies and humanitarian crises with timely and accurate geospatial information derived from satellite imagery and open data sources.
At the same time, the European Union recognises that digital technologies give rise to a number of ethical challenges. Ultimately, the use of digital technologies in humanitarian operations should be people-centred and rooted in the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.
As part of the effort to address the challenges of data protection, data ethics and data sharing, the European Commission supports the work of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Centre for Humanitarian Data.
In particular, to draft general guidelines on how to manage sensitive data for the humanitarian sector and to develop a secure infrastructure that will allow humanitarian partners to process sensitive data responsibly.
EU priorities linked to the adoption of digital technologies for humanitarian assistance include:
- Data protection and data ethics: the humanitarian sector must share a common understanding of data ethics and work together on the development of data protection standards.
- Strengthening collaboration: enhancing digitalisation in the humanitarian sector requires greater data sharing in line with data protection standards, system and database interoperability as well as sharing lessons learnt on best (and worst) practices.
- Focusing on impact and efficiency: digital technologies are showing positive effects where they are applied as part of the solution to a clearly defined humanitarian problem. The EU encourages its partners to use innovative digital solutions where these can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian response.
In order to maximise the benefits of digitalisation for humanitarian aid, the EU supports digital approaches and, or solutions built into the design and implementation of humanitarian actions.
The EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations leads the way by gathering the necessary technical expertise and liaising with other EU services in order to build synergies and boost effectiveness.
Last updated: 15/07/2021
Picture: © Pablo Tosco/Oxfam Intermón
Facts & figures
Every day, we send 207 billion e-mails, make 4.2 billion searches on Google and have 152 million phone calls on Skype.
In 2019, 53% of the world’s population had access to the internet, but this is only 19% in less developed countries (International Telecoms Union, 2020).
The main challenge is connectivity and internet access as well as affordability.
While internet access is not uniform across the world, mobile phones are increasingly affordable and popular across the world (UN, World Bank).