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OCHA launches report on new and emerging technologies in humanitarian action

19 Apr 2021


Children use a mobile phone at St. Columba’s School in New Delhi, India. © UNICEF/UN036675/Sharma

New and emerging technologies have the potential to support a paradigm shift in the humanitarian system from reaction to anticipation by enabling earlier, faster and potentially more effective humanitarian action, a new report published by OCHA has found.

The report – From Digital Promise to Frontline Practice: New And Emerging Technologies in Humanitarian Action – underscores that artificial intelligence can facilitate analysis and interpret vast and complex humanitarian data sets to improve projections and decision-making. Mobile applications, chatbots and social media can create immediate feedback loops with people affected by humanitarian crises. And, as showcased by the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, education and health services can be shifted to virtual environments overnight.

But the report also highlights that such advantages come with complex challenges and risks. For example, inadequate data protection and privacy can cause harm, intensify insecurities and hinder the principled delivery of humanitarian assistance. Unequal connectivity, access to technology or digital literacy can exacerbate core vulnerabilities and intensify gender biases, while incomplete data sets about affected people can lead to digital discrimination.

World Food Programme (WFP) food distribution with mobile phone technology, Mogadishu, Somalia, 1 April 2020. © WFP/Ismail Taxta

Among the report’s conclusions is that technology is not an end in itself, and its adoption alone cannot shift a paradigm. Rather, investment in technology must be made together with efforts to ensure that it is responsible, sustainable and inclusive and that it protects, above all, human life and dignity. Undertaken jointly with affected communities and partners across sectors, such converging efforts could powerfully enable transformation in the years to come.

The report is being launched on Thursday, 29 April at a virtual event co-hosted by OCHA and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. New York time.

During the event, speakers will discuss the promises and pitfalls of new technologies, and how to realize the “digital promise” for the humanitarian sector.

Register for the event

Download the full report

Read an overview of the report