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World Humanitarian Summit: Celebrating humanitarian innovation

27 Jun 2014


19 June 2014, Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire: USG Valerie Amos at the opening of the two-day WHS Regional Consultation. Credit: OCHA/Ivo Brandau
A doctor and two engineers have been awarded for their innovative approaches to humanitarian action.

The humanitarian system needs to change and improve. But for this to happen, humanitarians need to look beyond their systems and processes. They need to seek inspiration in new technologies and partners. They need to innovate.

Innovation is central to the World Humanitarian Summit – an initiative that seeks to redefine the global approach to humanitarian response.

Over the past couple of months, the organizers of the first World Humanitarian Summit Regional Consultation – held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire on 19 and 20 June – organized an Innovation Contest.

They invited people from around the world to come up with creative solutions to intractable problems in West and Central Africa.

Of the hundreds of submissions received, three innovators were selected to present their proposals at the Abidjan meeting.

Dr. Didier Lalaye: An SMS lifeline

Bilharzia or schistosomiasis is a disease caused by small parasites. The disease is Chad’s second largest public health concern. Dr. Didier works at the Women and Children’s Hospital in the capital N’djamena as well as in remote villages with the organization, Reach for Change. It was during this community work that he started to notice an upsurge in Bilharzia.

“More and more people were becoming infected, and patients were coming in with advanced stages of the infection, making them more prone to serious health ailments such as infertility and bladder cancer,” Dr. Lalaye explains.

He dug deeper, and discovered that one of the main reasons for this increase in infections was the lack of early testing options available in remote parts of the country. Working with a team of dedicated health and community development professionals from the organization, Reach for Change, Dr. Lalaye launched a pilot project in the south of Chad to bring affordable and convenient testing and treatment to Chad’s most vulnerable people.

Teams of technicians carry out door-to-door testing for the infection. Results are then sent to patients and families via SMS. Where necessary, medical treatment regimens are also communicated via text message and medicines are delivered straight to homes.

“We make it easier for people to know their status and treat Bilharzia before complications occur,” he says.

Tricia Compas-Markman: “Clean water is tied to everything”

It was in Thailand where Tricia first really understood the value of clean water. An Arizona native with a background in civil engineering, Tricia was working on a project designed to bring clean water to a remote, rural community.

“It’s tied to everything,” she says. “The community’s development, their health, their food. Water is life”.

Following her experience in Thailand, Tricia started a Master’s Degree in water treatment. It was during her studies that she teamed up with a group of similarly minded fellow engineering students and professors to design a water bag that could be easily deployed and used by communities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

Her organization, DayOne Response, was born from this collaboration. DayOne Response distributes hygienic water bags with water treatment packets to disaster-affected communities. Each kit provides a family of four with enough clean water for two months. The bags are easy to store and use, turning murky water into clear drinkable water. 

The water bags have been piloted in Haiti, the Philippines and most recently in Benin. DayOne Response partners with the NGO Care International and Procter and Gamble to pre-position the sacks and water treatment packets in some of the most hard to access places in the world.

“We want to provide enough water at the emergency stage to allow people to get back on their feet,” Tricia says.

Julien Jacob: E-cash transfers

In tandem with colleagues at Action Contre le Faim (ACF), Julien’s discovery was the outcome of innovation and experience. A seasoned international aid worker, Julien Jacob works with ACF-Spain to provide food security and livelihoods support to some of the hardest-hit crises in the world.

The idea for his e-cash transfer scheme originated in the Philippines where a 2011 typhoon cut the food supply for some communities. “We had to find innovative ways to reach communities and provide food,” Julie explains. “The team in the field reacted quickly to design an electronic transfer scheme based on existing infrastructure”.

So, Julien and his ACF colleagues came up with The Kit for Autonomous Cash transfer in Humanitarian Emergencies (KACHE).

According to the ACF website, “the project established a voucher programme with local supermarkets to provide flood-affected people with essential food and non-food items. The programme also piloted the first humanitarian use of electronic debit cards in the Philippines.”

This approach allowed people to choose the food they wanted, meant they could make multiple purchases, and reduced the amount of bureaucracy involved in getting relief to people in need.

The programme has since been tested in Mongolia and Nepal. Julien’s project is soon entering the Sahel, with a pilot to be rolled-out in Gao, Mali in the coming months. “The Sahel is one of the world’s most challenging environments for this type of scheme. If we are able to implement it here, we can do it anywhere.”