‘After natural or man-made crises situations approximately 90 per cent of the affected people is saved by locals. This is why local communities should be better informed and supported to be able to take the correct action’, says Kenny Meesters, who carries out research into the role of information and ICT in crisis situations and disaster responses at TU Delft and Agder University in Norway.
Through Agder University in Norway, Meesters is involved in the EU COMRADES project coordinated by the Open University in the UK , which aims to design and develop a platform for enabling communities to become more resilient after crises such as flooding and earthquakes. He and his fellow researchers are developing a communication platform (based on the Ushahidi platform) to support communities in building their own situational overview, identifying risks, making informed decisions and communicating them.
This project is providing another tool for disaster responders and -most of all- local people. Meesters explains the use of technology as adding more options to the toolbox. This toolbox may contain innovative technological tools, but may very well be ‘old-fashioned walkie-talkies’. Key is to build upon best practices in a community, not just providing ‘cool’ technology that does not fit in the daily lives of the locals’, according to Meesters.
Field work in Nepal
To understand the role of information and related technologies for disaster affected communities, Meesters works with them to design, implement and maintain their own information management practices. This enables them to develop their own processes and tools. In order to find out how communities respond to crises and how to best suit their information needs, Meesters travelled to Nepal last February, to conduct interviews and participate in workshops organised jointly by ICMS Nepal, the Institute of Crisis Management Studies and Agder University. While he was there he met with community members, local government officials and even the Prime Minister of Nepal to discuss their needs.
The traditional role of western humanitarian organisations is changing. From handing out food parcels to starving children in the early days to pro-actively facilitating local aid agencies in their efforts to recover and reconstruct an area that has been affected by a disaster nowadays. And indeed local people are organising themselves and taking the lead. This is also made possible by technological innovations such as social media. Meesters: ‘I feel it is our task to empower local communities by handing them the tools that will work for them. From experience, I know that new technologies are not always the answer. Yes, innovations open up new possibilities, but they do not always directly benefit the local people. Often they also bring challenges such as ethical issues. An innovation may have a great potential, but not necessarily leads to a (positive) impact. Technical innovators in the field of humanitarian response should be aware of this and not lose touch with real life’.
Meesters and his fellow researchers hope to act as a linking pin, bringing together the different needs of stakeholders in humanitarian response. An issue that will also be addressed in the upcoming inaugural speech ‘Data for Dunant’ of professor Bartel Van de Walle on 10 March.
Inaugural speech of professor Bartel Van de Walle: ‘Data for Dunant’
Salon on Humanitarian Response
Prior to the lecture the Salon on Humanitarian Response will take place.