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OCHA launches 500 free humanitarian symbols

23 Aug 2012


The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA) has created a set of 500 freely available humanitarian icons to help relief workers present information about emergencies and crises quickly and simply.

When a disaster strikes, it is vital that all the different humanitarian agencies and workers can gather accurate information about the locations and needs of the people affected and who is best placed to help them. This creates an urgent need for complex information to be presented in a way that everyone can understand, as quickly as possible.
“Clearly presenting and visualizing this information is the next step, and hopefully leads to more effective and timely humanitarian assistance,” said Akiko Harayama, Head of OCHA’s Advocacy and Visual Media Unit (AVMU), OCHA.
OCHA’s icons are used throughout the range of information products it produces for the humanitarian community, including maps, reports, infographics and websites. 
”After we released a set of icons in 2008, we started to receive requests for more symbols from our humanitarian partners, including UN agencies and NGOs in the field around the world,” said Harayama. “In the middle of a crisis, relief workers would not have the time or design skills to create good symbols.” 
The set of symbols has now been expanded to cover everything from natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes to relief supplies, such as water containers and shelter kits. It encompasses complex humanitarian issues, including gaining access to people in need and the protection of civilians. Countries and territories are also covered.
Sofya Polyakov is the co-founder and CEO of The Noun Project—a website that offers a crowdsourced collection of universally recognizable icons for visual communication. 
“Symbols are some of the best communication tools we have to overcome many language and cultural barriers,” she explains. “By making symbols easily accessible, OCHA is helping humanitarians, disaster responders and people around the world to communicate important concepts quickly and easily, no matter where they are.”
The symbols can be downloaded for free on ReliefWeb and The Noun Project. Whenever possible, credit as follows: “Source: OCHA”. We would appreciate a notification via email with a link to your work for our records.