BY Jenty Kirsch-Wood
Typhoons and droughts have one thing in common: they are both the result of hot temperatures. Hot air over land sucks the moisture out of the ground (drought). Hot air above the sea, in combination with warm surface water, causes evaporation. And above the Pacific Ocean, this situation turns into a typhoon. In Vietnam, an average of 6-10 typhoons hit the country between June and November each year. They cause significant damages and losses. In the dry season, from mid November to April, drought and saltwater intrusion regularly causes serious damages to agriculture-based livelihoods for Central and Highland regions. Between 2015- 2016, El Nino caused severe drought and saltwater intrusion in the Central Highlands and Mekong River Delta, which affected more than 2 million people and damaged more than 660,000 hectares of crops. In 2017, typhoon Damrey made landfall in the south central provinces, which caused 300 deaths and left approximately 400,000 people in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. Pre-positioning humanitarian supplies is common practice. Why not pre-position some of the data needed to make assessments? This is the question we asked as part of our efforts with national partners to get better data to respond faster to disasters in the country. The trouble with disaster data The Government of Vietnam and its development partners understand that a speedy and effective response can save lives and help communities bounce back after disasters. We have been proactive in collecting data and information to prepare better for relief and response activities. The problem is ensuring that disaster data is used to support timely relief and response planning. If you wait until a typhoon hits, data problems usually follow. First, you need data to understand the damages from the typhoon. Second, you also need to understand what are the early recovery needs, and this normally take 2-3 weeks to collect. Third, the government and partners have to verify the data sources from the commune and district level to ensure their accuracy before using it to inform relief and response activities. After a disaster, the pressure to move quickly often means that data collection is uneven. This makes it much more difficult to focus on data cleaning and analysis with disaster response data. Last but not least, quantitative data on the number of people affected by typhoons is not always available. Or it can be either under and over estimated, which makes for inaccurate estimations of the humanitarian assistance that is needed. Data on vulnerable groups, such as people living with disabilities is even harder to come by. From 3 weeks to 36 hours: prepositioning disaster assessment data before the typhoon We are developing tools and maps that can link baseline data on vulnerability and potential risks to improve preparedness, response and recovery activities. We are working with a local IT firm to make use of different layers of data in order to visualize disaster effects caused by typhoons/floods. The tool will be a web-based application, which will then be accompanied by a relief and recovery tracking tool - an app for mobile phones so it can be used on the go. As part of design, we talked to sectoral experts and partners including the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority and the Disaster Management Working Group about what baseline data is needed. Together with a UN team, we collected the key baseline data for eight sectors: health, food security, water and sanitation, nutrition, shelter, protection, education and early recovery. This helped us develop a working prototype of how baseline and disaster data can help speed up disaster response. We are now developing an approach to be able to show where storm tracks will go, and how this will impact the total population. The tools and maps that we are working on will also help predict the most likely scenario of disaster impacts on the communities. With this information, we would be able to calculate the costs of likely humanitarian and recovery needs. These advanced tools will generate an assessment report within 36 hours of disaster. We did this by pre-positioning the baseline data to automatically generate an estimated calculation for impacts and recovery needs for specific areas affected by a disaster. Having the data on hand will provide a contextualized picture of the disaster that the government, UN agencies and development partners can use to plan for relief, response and recovery activities. These tools and maps are part of a comprehensive solution to prepare quicker and better for disasters. Improving quality and delivery of social and projection services post disasters UNDP is the leading agency and is working with UN partners including UN Women, WHO, FAO, UNICEF, IOM on the project, and to identify available baseline data for relevant sectors such as health, education, shelter, etc., and associated key immediate needs. Each agency is responsible for its sectoral baseline data collection and contributes to the development of tools within consultation meetings. We also talked with relevant governmental agencies and members of Disaster Management Working Groups to ensure than the solutions promote gender equity and highlight the needs of the most vulnerable groups such as children, people with disability, elderly, and people with HIV/AIDS. It also improves quality and delivery of social and projection services after disasters through partnership building. Our team is the final stages of developing a simple tool that turns the baseline data into a rapidly usable reporting format for humanitarian assistance. The tool will undergo the final testing phase this month. We hope to test the tools within this disaster season, and keep learning from our work to date to support more speedy and effective disaster response and recovery in the near future. Photo: Markus Spiske via Unsplash
BY Olga Zubritskaya-Devyatkina | 28 November 2018
When the 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, a group of 14 people responded to the crisis within a few hours. With the support of the United Nations, they started to collect tweets and images that described the immediate situation in Nepal. They diligently classified the tweets and geolocated images to assess the damages and needs in the affected regions. They gave the information to the organizations that were providing relief services depending on a geographic area. You might wonder why these 14 people are so meaningful to our response work in Nepal. As it turns out, they are part of a network of over 17,000 individuals worldwide who dedicate their time and expertise through the Online Volunteering service of the United Nations Volunteers programme. A service you can also benefit from, as will be explained at the end of this article. Take Nepali UN Online Volunteer Vibek Raj Maurya, for example. He works for ActionAid International in Somaliland. He is a passionate supporter of open source software and open knowledge and had volunteered for Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap. “After the devastating earthquake in Nepal, I ran across the call on the UNV website. Instantly, I signed up for the cause. I was not in the country but I wanted to be part of the humanitarian response in whatever way and capacity I could,” he says. Vibek worked in the Urgent Needs and Geographic Information System Group. He guided new volunteers on gathering data from social media and news sites as well as other public data sources.He taught other volunteers how to enter the data into the database to produce a good information repository for responders on the ground, including OCHA, UNDP, ACAPS and WFP. The hard work and impact of these online volunteers that stepped it up and contributed to the emergency response in Nepal is priceless. Sending life-saving messages out In September last year, three hurricanes struck the Caribbean, causing a wide number of casualties and devastation across the region. To provide up-to-date information to those affected, UNICEF launched the Disaster Risk Reduction campaign, its boldest social media exercise to date. UNICEF partnered with Facebook, Viber and teams of UN Online Volunteers to get life-saving messages out to the communities living in Hurricane Irma’s path. UNICEF used U-Report, a global platform where people are able to speak out on issues that matter to them, to upload pre-approved emergency preparedness advice, offering important information on how to prepare for the hurricane. With over 25,000 people accessing information via U-Report, it was difficult to address all the incoming questions quickly. This is when UNICEF partnered with UN Online Volunteers. Within 30 hours, the volunteers were responding to the multiple inquiries from those affected. “The great thing about onlinevolunteering.org was the speed with which we could engage the volunteers and the high quality of their work,” says James Powell, Global U-Report Lead from the UNICEF Global Innovation Centre, who coordinated the online volunteer teams. Over the course of 21 days, working in shifts to ensure 24-hour coverage, and frequently forced to juggle their own commitments, the online volunteers responded to over 8,000 messages, using up-to-minute information provided by UNICEF. The online volunteering service platform recognized the team of 7 UN volunteers for their outstanding work. “It was gratifying to see that giving some hours of my time helped UNICEF to provide important, sometimes life saving information. We can all be agents of change, each and every one of us. Our decisions can put us either on the right side of change, or on the wrong side. Working on this assignment made me feel I was on the right side of change,” says Nouriatou Ntieche, one of the UN online volunteers involved with UNICEF during Hurricane Irma. A new form of partnerships Across the globe, volunteers are helping over 40 UN entities reach their programmatic goals and delivery worldwide, with a simple laptop and an internet connection. Many of these online volunteer opportunities are related to research, communications, translation and graphic design. The sky’s the limit when it comes to finding a talented pool of individuals, however, what makes these UN Online Volunteers different is their passion and commitment to give their talents to help make this world a more inclusive place for everyone. So, how can you engage UN online volunteer? It’s as easy as 1-2-3: Register your office or team at onlinevolunteering.org Receive expert advice on how to best involve UN Online Volunteers and draft your assignment Select the best-suited candidate(s) who have applied to get them onboard!
Note: The boundaries and names shown and the designations used on the map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.