Question 8

Can new technology tackle key humanitarian challenges, including disaster relief, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and education? Can advances in robotics, AI and big data give us the means to transform the UN approach?

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  • Hamda Abdulla Al Awadhi

    The United Nations has been the main and the most active entity in coordinating humanitarian aid operations in areas where many national governments fail or do not have the capacity to reach. Thus, the coordination of humanitarian relief is crucial in times where fast and efficient assistance is increasingly becoming valuable in life-saving actions. The use of modern technologies have been increasingly important in limiting the time of delivering assistance to people in need, and to conflict zones where the human capacity sometimes fails to access and reach within an accepted timeframe to save lives and reduce any damages to the living environment of a certain affected community.

    Providing aid is often faced with a myriad of challenges. For example, in conflicts zones areas such as in Syria and Iraq, the lives of the humanitarian workers are often put at risk. The UN human watch group has no way of discovering the actual number of the civilian that are under hostage in cities such as Mosul and Raqqa (Blansjaar and Stephens 57). The lack of the real number of the victim limits the mobilization of the resources required to address the humanitarian crisis in these areas. Besides, in areas such as Somalia, the WHO lacks the capacity to collect data on the number of children suffering from malnutrition (Sandvik et al. 219). Therefore, the humanitarian organization must turn to technology to better deliver assistance to vulnerable groups. Some of the ways technology can be used to assist in the delivery of humanitarian aid are through using mobile smart technologies to transfer money, artificial intelligence, social media, and drones technologies.

    In some refugee camps, mobile money technology is used to send small amount of money as salary to refugees to assist in purchasing essential commodities. Therefore, the humanitarian organization no longer have to rely on buying foods and delivering and distributing them by trucks in camps. Besides, the money transfer technology allows the refugee family to prioritize the usage of the money (Sandvik et al. 227). For example, the money could be used to buy medicine or take a child to school if food is available. Hence, the system allows for easy transfer of cash to the refugee families.

    Artificial intelligence (AI) is an emerging field of science which seeks to develop autonomous machines (robots) that can reason and acts like human beings. The AI robots would be able to offer humanitarian assistance efficiently as they will have fewer challenges as compared to the humans. For example, the machines will not fear death. Therefore, they could be sent on a mission to deliver aid to besieged cities and areas. Furthermore, the robots do not suffer from fatigue and frustrations that are evident in many humanitarian workers. Therefore, the robots would be able to reach more victims and in a shorter time (Sandvik et al. 232). Furthermore, such robots could be programmed to offer medical assistance to the wounded and evacuate the children, women and elderly from the conflict zones.

    Data collection is often done by on ground workers who sends the files to the regional headquarters for assistance. The smartphones and tablets offer an exciting alternative. For instance, the data of the refugees registered could be gathered quickly and sent to the head office in real time. The seamless data sharing allows for the quicker response. Furthermore, the efficient data sharing allows for the humanitarian organizations to share the data with the donors thus speeding up the overall aid delivery.

    Another approach is through the use of social media platforms that allow the victims to share their stories in real time and consequently assists the humanitarian providers to address their challenges and respond to them faster. Thus, being on social media platforms makes humanitarian organizations more accessible to the public.

    As for the drone technology, they are increasingly being deployed in many spheres of the human life. For example, they are used in the military to deliver smart bombs or targeted bombings or collect intelligence on the enemies. The humanitarian organizations could deploy drones to access the site of disasters and design rescue missions (Sandvik et al. 242). They can deliver medicine to affected and remote areas where human capacity fails to reach within needed time to save lives and reduce damages.

    In general, the United Nations is slowly but increasingly trying to utilize modern technologies to improve their operations, and ensure the effectiveness of their humanitarian relief missions in affected areas. Many challenges are ahead of employing technologies in providing aid that might interfere with the security and the privacy of individuals and sometimes countries, however, it remains the responsibility of UN agencies to address these challenges and others to ensure achieving their objectives of maintaining international peace and security through saving human lives, and respecting their dignity and their right to live.

    Works Cited

    Blansjaar, M. A. R. T. I. J. N., and F. R. A. S. E. R. Stephens. “Information technology in humanitarian supply chains.” Humanitarian Logistics, Kogan Page, London (2014): 57- 73.

    Sandvik, Kristin Bergtora, Maria Gabrielsen Humbert, John Karlsrud, and Mareile Kaufmann”Humanitarian technology: a critical research agenda.” International Review of the Red Cross 96.893 (2014): 219-242.