How smart partnership and technology are changing humanitarian assessment
When the UN and international NGOs put together their respective skills and mean serious synergy, the results can be rather surprising. Born in 2010 from the extended joint work of UNOSAT experts and practitioners from Geneva-based NGO IMPACT Initiatives and French leading humanitarian NGO ACTED, REACH is a good example of a smart partnership aimed at applying new technology to a centrally strategic humanitarian domain: that of rapid assessment in crisis and disaster areas. REACH’s specific objective is to help fill information gaps before, during and in the aftermath of a crisis using the power of GIS and mobile technology.
Because it was born in the context of the humanitarian reform process, REACH is regarded not only as a practical information solution, but also an example of how technology can contribute in practice to better humanitarian processes. Presented to the Inter-agency Standing Committee (IASC) in 2012, the system received praise from all humanitarian operators, aware of the importance of acquiring and sharing data and using viable technology to improve the assessment campaigns that are routinely organised each time a crisis requires the intervention of the international humanitarian community.
REACH facilitates the development of information products to enhance the decision making and planning capacity of the international community in the areas of emergency, reconstruction and development. It combines modern information technology, GIS and web-based mapping, with rapid in-field assessment methodology developed over years of experience. UNOSAT provides satellite imagery, analysis and web-based interactive mapping solutions. IMPACT Initiatives works from Geneva and directly in the field to ensure participatory assessment in coordination with other NGOs and other UN players on the ground.
FILLING AN INFORMATION GAP
Working at country and global levels, REACH has set for itself the mission of developing solutions and practical answers to information needs of the humanitarian community, notably clusters and inter-cluster matters. To facilitate the adoption of tools and processes that truly represent an improvement over current practices, REACH works in close partnership with all agencies and entities part of the humanitarian sphere.
REACH carries out complementary interventions that are conducted both at global level and through specific deployments to areas in-crisis or at-risk-of crisis. At global level, REACH partners with aid actors and coordination structures in order to promote the development and implementation of best practices for the collection and use of humanitarian data. At country level, REACH teams intervene in contexts of crisis or risk-of crisis to facilitate rapid and effective collection, processing and dissemination of key information that supports decision making and coordination by aid actors.
To support its in-field interventions REACH has a dedicated and rapidly deployable team of assessment, database, mapping and remote sensing experts. Once in the field, the REACH teams are capable of three parallel and complementary services, depending on the needs and circumstances: data collection of data and geocoded data; processing of data reports, publications, static and interactive web maps; dissemination of data products to key aid stakeholders and monitoring of the impact in terms of decision making and coordination.
THE REASONS OF A STRATEGIC CHOICE
Rapid access to high quality information is a critical pre-condition for effective aid delivery. The capacity of the humanitarian community to rapidly gather and effectively use information on the key needs and priorities of affected populations in contexts as volatile and dynamic as natural disasters and complex emergencies has been a matter of heated debate for a long time. While the debate goes on, however, humanitarian organisations are called to operate in situations that become more challenging, more hazardous and more frequent and extensive. On top of this the financial crisis has meant new restrictions in donorship and a general expectation to do more with less.
A response to these concerns comes in part from the applied research and practices developed at UNOSAT since 2003, when the Humanitarian Rapid Mapping Service was first launched. Otrher elements of response come from the expertise matured by ACTED in the area of dedicated interagency resources for the collection, analysis and dissemination of key information, especially between and among NGO entities.
The strategic choice made in 2010 was to combine the experience and technology value of UNOSAT and the in-field experience of ACTED into a flexible yet robust solution able to handle the current information gap effectively, in any operational environment and with a light institutional and budget footprint. During the crisis period, REACH increases the rapid availability of information products that follow suite from the emergency response tools like UNOSAT rapid mapping products. In the recovery and development phases, REACH allows the continued use of information products by aid stakeholders, increasing the life span of data and information generated at the time of response.
UNOSAT web-mapping technology supports an important part of REACH solutions for data acquisition and dissemination. Crises covered so far include: Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Peru, Philippines, Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville), Somalia, and South Sudan.
In the countries where REACH teams are deployed, REACH also sets up information centres in order to facilitate access to maps and other information-products for field-based aid actors.
A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE OF GEOINFORMATION
REACH is one of the outlets of geospatial technology applications researched by UNOSAT experts. Its specific dedication to assessment is the fruit of the partnership with IMPACT Initiatives and ACTED, two champions of NGO efforts in this particular area. The UNOSAT advantage - reliable satellite analysis, innovative solutions, and sound database management - is transformed here into a technology enabler for a mission that exceeds the specific domain of humanitarian mapping and needs to benefit a larger population of users. This example is not isolated, HumaNav and CyberMappr are two additional areas of expansion in which satellite-based solutions are used as cross-fertilizers of new applications to solve concrete problems.
REACH is also an example of advanced integration of on-line solutions and modern mapping methodologies capable of accepting input from institutional actors, expert analysts and one day soon anonymous volunteers. As such REACH offers a glimpse of the future to come in the area of geospatial solutions applied to humanitarian needs: more data packed in fewer improved products assembled in the cloud according to need and priority and a general higher density of information for each specific crisis.
Image 1 - A typical example of rapid assessment resulting from UNOSAT satellite analysis and in-field data collection.
Image 2 - Example of on-line integrated map (Libya) http://libya.reach-initiative.org/
Image 3 - Mapping done at times of crisis turns beneficial for local during reconstruction and development. Here the case of Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
Example of Rapid Assessment Report (Somalia) http://www.reach-initiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Somalia__Final-Report.pdf