Solutions That Are Saving Lives in Humanitarian Response
As record numbers of people are displaced by disaster and conflict, the humanitarian community faces increasing challenges. In addition, population-increase and the impacts of climate change are intensifying the risk of wider humanitarian crises, such as food and water insecurity. Emerging innovations in humanitarian aid can help us mitigate these growing problems. We have been researching the top solutions that are saving lives in over 100 countries and hundreds more have been submitted by you on our recent online survey.
Science and technology have the potential to dramatically improve humanitarian aid and disaster response - the solutions researched and recommended to us span from wearable technology and 3D printing to sustainable innovations in basic sanitation, shelter and nutrition. We received over 320 solutions from NGOs, local governments, UN agencies and the private sector working in 58 different countries, and welcome you to share your suggestions with us. We hope this report will inspire new solutions to improve humanitarian aid delivery and shape brighter future outcomes. Here we present just some of the technologies and services at the forefront of sustainable humanitarian aid, researched and recommended to us by you:
Jump to Category
1. Data collection, GIS & mapping
2. Disaster resilience & reconstruction
4. Essential aid supplies
5. Information and communication technology
6. Food and nutrition
7. Healthcare & medical equipment
8. Logistics, shipping & aid delivery
10. Safety, security & stability
11. Shelter & temporary housing
12. Training & education
15. Wearable technology
1. Data collection, GIS & Mapping
It is widely accepted in the humanitarian community that sharing data saves lives. Data shows aid and relief workers how to provide at-risk groups with the aid they need, when they need it. Yet immediately following a disaster, data collection is often rushed and gathered in different formats. In the past, this made collating data in order to build a bigger picture of a crisis difficult and time-consuming work. Similarly, deciphering the overflow of data received can be just as crippling to humanitarian response as no information at all.
Now, field data can be collected using iPad and Smartphone apps and then directly uploaded to cloud storage, ready for analysis away from the field. This technology not only cuts down on processing time (and errors) but it also means crisis maps can be generated much faster, mobilising rapid and accurate aid following disasters.
Crisis mapping is not new, with platforms such as Ushahidi operating since 2008, collecting eyewitness reports of post-election violence and crowd sourcing for social activism. However, GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping is more than just mapping. It is also an analytical, data management and visualisation tool. As an example, GIS mapping is useful in fighting infectious diseases such as Ebola; digitally mapping and visualising outbreak locations, casualties and fatalities in the hope of preventing spread. GIS mapping is also used to create disaster risk maps of flooding, climate change adaptation and natural resources, and gives NGOs transparency, showing donors exactly where aid is going and where their contributions are making a difference.
1. The University of Central Asia and IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) recently launched Kyrgyzstan Spatial, an online, interactive mapping tool, designed to help policy makers and practitioners make evidence-based decisions in agriculture and food security.
This Kyrgyztan Spatial map shows cereal crop production, such as wheat, is mostly concentrated in the North and Western part of Kyrgyzstan
2. Adapx’s data collection solutions include Capturx digital pen technologies, which enable a user to fill out paper forms or mark up maps and send the data digitally. Data can be uploaded via mobile phone or PC, where it is validated and then sent on to other databases and organisations.
3. DigitalGlobe own and operate the most agile and sophisticated constellation of commercial earth imaging satellites in the world. The geospatial imaging is used to assist workers in global development and agriculture. The DigitalGlobe Foundation works with innovative geospatial imagery to address significant local, national and global challenges.
DigitalGlobe satellite imaging shows flooding devastation in Bangkok, Thailand 2011
4. Rapid Eye Satellite Imaging monitor and map damage and effects of habitat, natural disasters, natural hazards and natural resources.
2. Disaster Resilience & Reconstruction
Sadly, technologies cannot prevent major natural events but they do help reduce the impacts; early warning systems have dramatically reduced deaths around the world. State of the art Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS) provide a single, cost-effective channel for reducing disaster risk from different types of hazards. The systems monitor all relevant meteorological actors and deliver alerts on cyclones, storm surges and temperature extremes, as well as on the resulting impacts such as flood, disease and physical damage.
Exhibitions at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan this year, showed the disaster relief services industry flourishing, with inventions such as anti-seismic flooring for use in hospital operating rooms (developed by Nippon Steel and Shimizu Corporation) and innovations in removing and transporting injured disaster victims.
Recent disaster relief innovations draw similarities in sustainability and reusability. UNICEF and Psychic Factory have developed multi-functional Lego-inspired bricks to transport food and drinking water to disaster victims and once used, slot together to form temporary shelter and other structures.
UNICEFs Lego-inspired bricks (courtesy of inhabitat.com)
Physical mitigation methods, such as flood levees, ocean wave barriers and retaining walls to prevent landslides are also being innovated. The Vietnamese Government, the World Bank and GFDRR (Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery) are working together to conduct research and trials on building the resilience of vulnerable rural roads, flood-proofing Vietnam’s main highway and minimising the loss of connectivity with communities.
1. TrapBag flood-protection barriers are cost-reductive temporary or permanent cellular structures designed to protect against natural disasters. The cells are made of high-strength textile, incorporating recycled plastic so the barrier is environmentally friendly and recyclable.
2. HESCO environmental barriers have significant advantages over traditional sandbags in terms of rapid deployment and structural integrity.
3. Energy/Power Supply
Globally, over 1.2 billion people still do not have access to electricity. For these people, solar lighting allows them to study, work and socialise safely outside daylight hours, vastly improving the quality of many lives.
Mobile money is being used by innovators in off-grid solar power, targeting Africa’s booming mobile industry. Instead of costly energy contracts, customers are able to pay small pay-as-you-go instalments using their mobile phones. Usually these payments are similar to, or less than, their usual weekly expenditure on kerosene. In practice, solar kits are paid off after 18 months and subsequent electricity is free to the new owner.
Following natural disasters, power outages can be sustained for long periods of time due to damages and delays in reconstruction. Access to power, light and warmth in times of crises is essential. In response to this, Ecosphere Technologies have released what they say to be the world's largest deployable solar power generator. The PowerCube can be transported as a standard shipping container and morphs into a multi-functional solar-powered shelter, water treatment plant and communications base at the push of a button.
1. M-KOPA Solar in Kenya, are the market leader of ‘pay-as-you-go’ energy for off-grid customers, supplying solar products that are affordable to low-income households on a pay-per-use instalment plan.
2. Philips’ Community Light Centers in Africa are lit using the latest solar power LED lighting technology. Their aim is to enable social and economic development for communities which lack electricity, enhancing safety, education, development and healthcare.
Philips' Community Light Center in Mathare, Nairobi provides 7000m² of good quality light and will help enable social and economic development.
4. Essential Aid Supplies
Displaced populations have often fled their homes with nothing more than the clothes on their back. Living in these conditions, people may feel more acutely stripped of their basic human dignity. To combat this, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) distribute ‘dignity kits’ to those in countries experiencing humanitarian crises, containing culturally appropriate items that vary across countries and regions. The kits contain headscarves in Muslim countries or hair oil in West Africa, as well as sanitary towels, hand soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and underwear. Although these items do not necessarily save lives, they provide comfort and dignity to those who need it most.
Communication is vital for aid workers and those displaced and disconnected from families. Innovative basic aid provisions, such as solar or wind-up lanterns, that combine as FM radios and mobile phone chargers can provide victims with radio broadcasts and help restore communication.
1. MPOWERD’s Luci Light is ultra-bright, lightweight, waterproof, shatterproof, and reliable in blackouts or extreme conditions.
MPowered Luci Lights for solar justice
2. AidPol’s emergency food rations and energy bars reduce hunger and tackle malnutrition for people displaced due to disaster, war or conflict. The pack content is adjustable based on the beneficiary, taking into account dietary preferences, age groups, cultural and religious requirements, climate and weather conditions, health status and demographic profile of the affected population. Each food pack also contains disinfectant tablets and a kit for cooking.
3. NRS International have created Tana Netting, high quality, durable and insecticide treated mosquito nets, providing protection for individuals and communities against malaria and other vector-borne diseases. Flexiway Solar provide a range of innovative solar products to those who live in refugee camps, disaster zones and in underdeveloped areas.
4. Charles-Nielsen's Life-Bed is an inflatable mattress that combines a hygienic, comfortable sleeping surface with a barrier against hypothermia. Using innovative and patented technologies Life-Bed is a lightweight, waterproof, robust alternative to traditional sleeping mats and at only 280 grams anyone can carry it. Life-Bed's multi-cell design is easily orally inflated in minutes and can be used on both wet and dry surfaces. Life-Bed is simple for humanitarian and aid agencies to distribute and are made from high-grade materials making them durable. A long shelf life makes them the perfect solution for emergency preparedness and crisis intervention operations -an ideal first response solution when disaster strikes.
5. Information & Communication Technology
In an emergency, the ability to communicate is crucial and humanitarian responders rely on ICT tools for numerous aspects of their operations. Although they may not solve development challenges on their own, the use of smartphone apps and ICT can heavily facilitate relief work when used properly. Wireless services leader Smart Communications (Smart) pioneered telecommunications disaster response by setting up web-based solutions before and in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Smart provided free call stations using satellite phones and emergency satellite communications services, allowing various agencies to coordinate disaster response efforts and facilitate faster relief.
New biometric systems can capture personal information using human characteristics such as fingerprints, DNA, retina patterns and voice patterns. These systems are found largely in hospitals to protect patient information and, most recently, in managing refugee camps. In South Sudan, one such state-of-the-art biometric tool is being used to help register and assist refugees more efficiently. The system captures information on families and is matched with fingerprint scanning, allowing aid workers to gather detailed information about thousands of refugees quickly and deliver assistance more accurately and efficiently.
The IFRC has called for similar innovative biometric designs for solar-powered kiosks that dispense cash like ATMs, and in emergencies can be used to retrieve important personal documents that are so often lost during disasters.
Bullitt Group's Catphones (Courtesy of ketv.com)
2. SatCase is a revolutionary device that transforms the common smartphone into a sophisticated satellite phone. By inserting a smartphone into SatCase, the result is a smart mix of rescue and personal security features and users can stay in touch with others, no matter where they are in the world.
3. IsatHub is Inmarsat’s revolutionary new product, which enables aid workers and NGOs to continue to use their smartphone or tablet out of network coverage, accessed via iOS or Android apps.
4. Iridium’s Push-To-Talk (PTT) is an innovative, lightweight and compact ‘limitless’ communications device. The PTTs are built for speed, allowing connections instantly and securely, anywhere on the planet. All transmissions are sent using one of the most secure encrypted standards available.
5. SES Techcom offer satellite capacity and assist in defining action plans for restoring communications after a disaster.
6. Food & Nutrition
Population growth and increasing humanitarian crises and disasters are causing more hunger and malnutrition (an underlying cause of 2.6 million child deaths each year) than ever before. Millions more children survive, but suffer irreversible negative effects because they did not receive the nutrients they needed early in their development. Rice fortification is an effective way to improve public health in populations of which rice is the staple food. DSM have manufactured a rice grain of recomposed, vitamin and mineral enriched rice kernels formed by hot extrusion of rice flour, which protects the incorporated vitamins and minerals. NutriRice increases the nutrition of its consumers without requiring a change in purchasing or cooking habits. Studies have demonstrated that NutriRice reduces micronutrient deficiencies by 50% and improves physical performance and concentration in schoolchildren.
Hydroponics can be used to significantly increase crop yield in urban areas and regions where soil type is unsuitable for farming. Hydroponics is the method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. This is advantageous in drought prone regions as the water used can be recycled. Combined with conventional aquaculture (fish farming), these methods provide a sustainable, long-term agricultural solution while eliminating the need for soil, fossil fuels, pesticides and toxic chemicals.
For farmers in developing countries without refrigerators, a great deal of produce can be lost through spoilage. The Wakati device is an answer to this, using a solar powered ventilator to gradually evaporate water over produce in a sterilised microclimate. This solution means produce stays fresh by up to 10 days longer in a hot climate, reducing waste and increasing farmers’ profit.
The Wakati solar-powered, sterilized microclimate for fruit and vegetables
Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires causes millions of premature deaths annually and contributes to a range of chronic illnesses and acute health impacts such as pneumonia, lung cancer, heart disease, low birth-weight and burns. The adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels can save lives and reduce illness.
1. In order to mitigate the negative impacts that are associated with the use of traditional cookstoves and open fires, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is leading a global effort to replace traditional cookstoves with cleaner and more energy efficient cooking solutions.
2. ZeroFly from Vestergaard is an advanced defence against insect pests for livestock and crop protection prior to, during and post-harvest. ZeroFly promotes prosperity and food security.
3. The Sanku Dosifier adds micronutrients to rural grain mills. The dosifier is low-cost, accurate and robust, easily transportable and has the ability to be installed on all flourmills.
The Sanku Dosifier
7. Healthcare & Medical Equipment
Currently, 3D printers that cost US$20,000 in 2010 now cost under US$1,000. This greater accessibility and financial appeal has led to 3D printers being used by the likes of Oxfam and iMakr to print hygienic taps in Lebanon. Agencies are learning it is much more efficient to send frameworks and prototypes digitally and print on location, saving time and money. 3D printers have also been used in Haiti to print medical supplies, and present opportunities to provide necessities when resources are limited. 3D printing still requires advanced technological skills to operate correctly but, in the future, has the potential to allow medical staff and aid workers to produce supplies without the logistical stress.
In remote areas of developing countries, rural areas often suffer from a lack of access to healthcare. Clinics and hospitals may be located hours away. These problems have influenced innovations in portable medical equipment that are lightweight, robust, and operable without electricity. Life-saving equipment for sterilisation, anaesthesia, diagnostics, respiratory management and x-ray allow aid and healthcare workers to effectively bring the hospital to the patient.
Transporting medicine in low-income countries and hot climates is another barrier that has been broken by innovators. True Energy have produced a Sure Chill solar-powered vaccine refrigerator that keeps medicine cool and safe without a connection to the grid. In addition to being solar-powered, it is so efficient that it is able to stay cool for ten days without a charge and contains a stabilising technology that adjusts appropriately to outside temperatures.
Drug administration itself is also being innovated. Becton Dickinson (BD) have recently developed the Uniject SCF prefilled single-use injection system, protecting against inappropriate needle reuse in the developing world.
1. Eniware provide portable power-free medical sterilisation for surgical care in any setting.
2. Gradian Health have developed the Universal Anaesthesia Machine (UAM) that uses electricity and compressed oxygen when available and continues to deliver safe, consistent anaesthesia when these sources are unaccesible or in low supply.
3. MinXray are a world-wide leader in the portable x-ray device industry, providing superior quality, reliable x-ray units for portable diagnostic imaging.
8. Logistics, Shipping & Aid Delivery
Although not directly life saving, logistical operations are (literally) the wheel of humanitarian response. Revolutions in fleet management and supply chain technology provide NGOs with real-time visibility and can reduce costs, lower environmental impacts and increase productivity.
Negotiating delivery of aid in conflict zones and gaining access to remote areas is often challenging and dangerous. Traditionally, aid workers have been treated as neutrals by parties to armed conflict; yet unfortunately, attacks on humanitarian aid workers are on the rise. Armoured vehicles can help protect humanitarians in these instances. Scaletta are innovators in armoured vehicles, designing systems that take into account ammunition type and impact velocity, tailoring characteristics to specific threats. Armoured vehicles are not within most NGOs’ fleet budgets and come with their own risks, but many organisations recognise they have their place in certain contexts.
Even more important than reaching medicine to devastated areas and remote locations is getting the medicine to these locations safely, rapidly and at the correct temperature. Medicines that are stored and transported at the incorrect ambience can have a devastating impact. STENGG’s Ultra Refrigerated Distribution Truck Bodies contain innovative partition systems, allowing the transportation of products at four different temperatures.
1. FleetWave, developed by Chevin Fleet, are a web-based fleet management system that help leverage cost savings, improve the safety of aid workers and provide solutions that are tailored to unique needs.
2. ST Kinetics produce small, light and relatively unarmoured military vehicles that are transportable by helicopter in to conflict zones. As well as use in combat, these Spider Light Strike Vehicles (LSV) are also useful in surveillance, surveying, ambulance and emergency support.
ST Kinetics LSV
3. Working under the ‘Delivering as One’ UN initiative, the World Food Programme (WFP), now supply transport and storage facilities for non-food items, general cargo, aid workers and donors, and also control logistical coordination amongst aid agencies. This logistical innovation of ‘Delivering as One’ enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of the UN’s work.
4. Volga Dnepr regularly assist in relief aid delivery programmes to help disaster victims. The airline carries a vast spectrum of goods; large food shipments, mobile kitchens, mobile hospitals, heavy wheel and snow-removal vehicles, ambulances and medical supplies.
Volga Dnepr cargo plane
5. SkyLIFE Technology save lives by providing rapid aerial deployment of humanitarian aid by dropping aerodynamically engineered SkyLIFE packs and boxes to those in need. The packs contain essential aid supplies including food, water, hygiene, power, blankets, shelter and communication devices.
SkyLIFE Dispersal Boxes
6. Navistar have introduced innovative trucks for use in disaster relief, combining fire-fighting, mobile medical units and water purifying facilities in one Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV). These vehicles are the first of their kind and have the potential to improve the quality of life in many places around the world.
7. Rokon ‘all-wheel drive’ motorcycles are rugged, lightweight, with wide tires and a high ground clearance. The any-terrain bikes provide solid traction for transporting aid supplies across rough terrain in conflict, disaster zones and remote locations, usually only accessible on foot.
Rokon motorcycles with coolers used to transport blood samples to fight Ebola in West Africa
8. Ford Everest blends rugged off-road capability with exceptional ride quality and dynamic handling. Led by Ford’s Asia Pacific design and product development teams, the new Everest makes use of Ford’s global SUV expertise and builds on the current Everest’s durability and versatility. State of the art features include Terrain Management System, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and Cross Traffic Alert.
In humanitarian aid, robotics can be found working in telemedicine, search and rescue, demining and as transportation devices. In healthcare alone they can provide diagnostic support, treatment and monitoring of patients, assist doctors and nurses in removing personal protective equipment, burying the deceased and in comforting people suffering from stress and trauma.
In disease spread by contact, such as the recent devastating outbreak of Ebola, robotics can be used to protect susceptible human aid workers and help screen for infectious disease or radiation, to deliver medicines, necessities and deliver video communications. It has been argued that using robotics removes the ‘human’ from humanitarian aid but in these instances, they are life-saving interventions.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones, offer humanitarian agencies a range of possibilities in relation to crisis mapping, search and rescue and supplies transport and delivery. ‘Disaster drones’ can be used to temporarily restore communications networks and for delivering medicines, mapping and surveying, finding and destroying landmines and bombs and assessing vulnerabilities and damage. Drone technology is also becoming cheaper and better developed, and recently UNOCHA issued guidelines on the use of UAVs in humanitarian efforts, and are becoming an integral part of disaster response.
1. STENGG’s state of the art Last Mile Enabler is a Robotic Articulated Wheel Vehicle (RawV) used for dangerous search and rescue operations, bomb disposal, mine detection, military surveillance and logistics transportion. Remotely controlled using mobile devices, the RawV has 16 motors and a camera that allow the operator to remotely view what lies in front of the vehicle.
2. Aid Necessities Transporters (ANTs) are multi-purpose unmanned vehicles capable of delivering emergency housing and supplies to disaster areas. They are designed to traverse rough terrain that would be impossible for conventional means of transport to navigate and are able to transform into a low-profile design for rapid return to base.
3. SXSW 2015 exhibited robotics such as the DAR-1, capable of scaling rubble in disaster zones and identifying those in need of aid through its facial recognition, eye tracking technology and sophisticated camera. DAR-1 on Youtube>>
4. The GimBall, a UAV created by Flyability, is designed to find victims in disaster areas. The flying parts are suspended inside a flexible carbon fiber cage, which lets the drone keep flying even after minor collisions. Still in development, the aim is to build a simple, durable flying device that can not only help find victims but potentially pinpoint chemical leaks, assess damaged structures, and facilitate dangerous building inspections as well.
The GimBall in action
5. Schiebel’s Camcopter UAVs and mine detection systems provide humanitarian agencies with assistance in safeguarding conflict and disaster zones.
10. Safety & Stability
NGOs and humanitarian aid agencies work in some of the most challenging and remote environments in the world. Operating in unstable surroundings with a lack of security or modern communications infrastructure, there is a high demand for innovative security, stability and supervision. Innovations in encrypted communications, satellite surveillance and physical protection of at-risk regions answer this demand.
1. Kinetic Six provide Motorola encrypted radio and satellite communications, web-based satellite and GSM tracking solutions, hazardous environment training and travel preparation courses to humanitarian aid workers.
2. Hart Integrated Solutions (part of the Chelsea Group) are an internationally recognised risk management company that deliver innovative, integrated solutions for land, sea and air environments. Working with the government and NGOs, they provide Hostile Environment Security Training (HEST), cultural awareness and other securities.
3. HESCO Accommodation Bunker (HAB) is specially engineered for ease of build, protecting personnel based in the most remote and hostile parts of the world. This safe-haven solution can provide living accommodation and is easily adapted to create infield medical facilities. Utilising trusted HESCO protective barriers; HAB is the ideal solution for safeguarding NGOs and humanitarian aid workers in unstable surroundings or creating temporary shelter for those affected by natural disasters.
Inside a Hesco Accomodation Bunker
4. Clements Kidnap and Ransom Insurance protects NGO workers living and working in foreign locations who may be targeted, providing financial compensation and expert crisis management in the event of a kidnapping for ransom, wrongful detention and/or extortion.
11. Shelter & Temporary Housing
Having safe and dignified shelter is a basic human right, yet floods, earthquakes, cyclones and conflict can destroy thousands of homes in an instant. Engineers and architects have been working in the post-disaster arena for many years, innovating better emergency homes for disaster relief and conflict affected families. In post-disaster areas, often the temporary housing that victims seek becomes their permanent home for years - even generations - to come, so there is a growing need for these to be sustainable, comfortable and resilient.
1. The NRS Relief have created the first-ever fully Fire Retardant (FR) tents and tarpaulins in the humanitarian community. NRS Relief’s Fire Retardancy innovation improves safety in refugee camps and prevents loss of properties, injuries and deaths.
2. Tactical Solar provide rugged tents and shelters with solar panels, meeting the growing demand for portable power for the communications systems that support aid workers and refugee camps.
3. Concrete Canvas Shelters are rapidly deployable hardened shelters that require only water and air for construction.
Concrete canvas shelters are fire resistant
4. Presently in the final stage of development and testing, the Humanihut Shelter System provides fresh and grey water, electricity and sewerage treatment. With a 20 year life span, it can be collapsed when no longer required, deployed to another emergency or stored for later use. This system offers displaced people a significantly improved standard of living and aid agencies significant cost reductions.
12. Training & Education
Innovations in eLearning have been developing at a fast pace alongside the latest technologies, engaging and empowering humanitarian workers around the world. eLearning enables organisations to provide flexible resources that can be used on the move and out in the field. Courses are available globally in essential humanitarian topics such as disaster response, crisis leadership, human rights and international humanitarian law.
Training and education can also empower those living in poverty. For example, Soko Mushrooms are a sustainable agriculture enterprise based in Zimbabwe that supply farmers with new skills through their mushroom growing workshops. Mushrooms are rich in protein, fibre, iron, vitamins and minerals. Empowering young farmers - often girls - with these techniques means they simultaneously fight poverty and malnutrition.
There are also new initiatives in educating water conservation and sanitation to local children. The idea is that training workshops, such as the Project WET Foundation and UNICEF’s WASH Strategies enable children to understand and value water, ensuring a sustainable future while promoting hygiene.
1. Disasterready.org is a free, easy to use online training resource designed to help prepare aid workers for the demands they face in the field.
2. Mott Macdonald are leading the English in Action (EIA) programme in Bangladesh, making classroom materials available to teachers through low-cost memory cards and mobile phones, enabling millions of Bangladeshis to learn English affordably.
3. UNITAR Peacekeeping Training Programme supports the development of capacities in the areas of peacekeeping, peace building and crisis management. Through innovative and results-oriented approaches, the programme strengthens knowledge and skills of individuals, groups or institutions.
Clean water and sanitation are critical to health, yet hundreds of millions of people globally live without these basic human rights. Without safe water for drinking, cooking and cleaning, people are likely to suffer from water-releated diseases. Water filtration and purification technology is progressing rapidly, and there are already many solutions available. Still, roughly one in ten people face the daily reality of life without safe, clean water and one in three do not have access to adequate sanitation.
Water sources are often inadequate in developing nations and areas suffering from disaster or conflict. For example, in Chad, the UNHCR supply water to refugee camps from a nearby lake but, paradoxically, this lake becomes inaccessible in rainy season and instead they must rely on the camps water storage tanks and bladders. Similarly, in Columbian displacement camps, the UNHCR use rainwater collection tanks in wet season, but when the rain stops they have to draw from wells. Urban slums often lack piped water and residents must resort to using expensive bottled water, unregulated water kiosks or using unsafe sources.
Promising innovations in portable water filtration and purification have the potential to answer these issues and reach some of the most inaccessible regions of developing countries. These innovations use chemical-free processes, sunlight and electro-coagulation (the passing of an electrical current through water) to make waste and contaminated water drinkable and safe.
1. The International Water Company (IWC) is developing the Mobile Water Purification System (MWPS), powered by solar, wind, or gravity with additional options of conventional power. The MWPS will produce enough clean water to support a village of 4,500 people, providing up to 22 litres of drinking water a day per person.
2. Butyl design and manufacture Emergency Water Storage and Distribution Equipment for emergency aid and development. Working within WHO guidelines, Butyl deliver systems as kits, using low technology and economical materials.
3. Puralytics have pioneered an entirely new photochemical technology for water purification. Powered by sunlight, the process destroys contaminants in water without creating hazardous waste. The Puralytics SolarBag water purifier treats 3 litres at a time in 3-4 hours and the LilyPad is designed on a larger scale, and can be used for cleaning up ponds, lakes and catchment areas.
4. HTI’s HydroPack is a personal water purification pouch that is simply placed into any water source to self-hydrate. The concept is to keep a supply hydrated so that there is always a safe drink available to those in need. HydroPacks are also easily distributed: a standard cargo pallet will hold 94,500 HydroPacks – enough to produce around 47,000 litres of clean water.
A child in Haiti drinks from a HTI Hydropack, 2010
5. Kaercher Futuretech create reliable products for rapid deployment missions in disaster areas and complex emergencies. Water supply systems produce drinking water out of nearly any water quality without the need for chemicals. Futuretech have also developed a mobile water bottling plant and packaging system to provide drinking water in the field.
With no other option for some communities, defecating in the open leads to polluted water sources and the fast spreading of disease. Women often have to wait until it is dark or find somewhere discreet, where they are then at risk of attack and abuse. In urban slums, space is often restricted and communal toilets are rarely connected to piped water or sewerage lines. The Gates Foundation are currently funding research to develop “next-generation” toilets that do not require a sewer, water connection or electricity and cost less than 5 cents per user per day.
1. The ArborLoo is a very simple and ecological composting toilet, costing around US$5. A shallow pit is dug, filled with dry ash and leaves and covered with a concrete seat. After each use, a cup of soil and wood ash mixture is added to encourage composting, reduce smell and discourage insect breeding. Once the pit is filled, it is covered with top soil and crops are planted, providing the roots with rich nutrients. A new structure is then built and the process repeated.
2. Envirosan produce environmentally friendly sanitation systems using the most technologically advanced machinery and techniques.
3. Peepoo is a self-sanitising biodegradable bag designed for single-use; is easy and hygienic to use and simple to produce. After use, Peepoo turns into valuable fertiliser that can improve livelihoods and increase food security. Because Peepoo is small, lightweight and not fixed in place, it can easily be used indoors or carried to a secluded spot for use as a private toilet. PeePoo focus on serving those in urban slums, schools and responding to natural disasters.
4. Evenproducts specialise in manufacturing and supplying water storage, emergency humanitarian aid and irrigation equipment. Evenproducts’ solutions are used in drought management, disaster management and camps for refugees and displaced people.
5. Sanergy build and service clean, modular toilets in the slums of Nairobi. Sanergy franchises its facilities to local entrepreneurs who earn money through fees or membership plans.
Sanergy latrines and users
15. Wearable Technology
Today’s wearable technology has been likened to wearing a boombox on your wrist. In the future, fabric technology in clothing and ‘smart tattoos’ will put the Apple watch to shame. In humanitarian aid, wearable technology is being developed for use in disaster response. For example, Google Glass-like technologies could be worn in the future by emergency responders, broadcasting a live-feed to agencies’ headquarters and providing decision makers with the full extent of structural damage and blocked roads. Wearable GPS devices with microphones may also assist in searching and communicating in a disaster or for sending out SOS signals to aid workers in dangerous territories.
1. Indonesian developers, Quick Disaster, have created an app for a wearable device like Google Glass. Quick Disaster provides guidance and information on rescue procedures for nine different disaster types and sends its GPS location to response teams. Quick Disaster can also be integrated with social media to inform others about the users’ situation.
2. Safelet and Cuff are GPS-equipped bracelets with integrated microphones. These technologies have the potential to be used by emergency responders being deployed in dangerous areas. They allow the wearer to send out an emergency alert to a chosen recipient, signalling they are in distress and providing their GPS location for recovery.
Cuff smart jewellery
UN Innovation Labs
UNICEF Innovation Labs are open, collaborative incubation accelerators that bring business, universities, governments and civil society together to create sustainable solutions to the most pressing challenges facing children and youth.
The UNDP Public Service Innovation Lab consolidate the best thinking on public service policies, strategies and institutional innovation from around the globe and share it with senior policy makers worldwide. Strong public services are often societies’ most powerful development resource and enable people to build their potential and flourish.
UN Global Pulse Labs bring together government experts, UN agencies, academia and the private sector to pioneer new methods and frameworks for for using Big Data to support development goals. Pulse Labs tap into local knowledge and innovation, establish key partnerships, test and pilot real-time monitoring approaches at the country level, and support the adoption of proven approaches.
UNHCR Labs launch, support and develop projects that focus on the needs of the forcibly displaced. The Labs’ ultimate goal is refugee protection, self-reliance, empowerment, dignity and education. UNHCR Labs rethink the way UNHCR works, the way it involves refugees in the design of programs, and the way it looks at good practices in the humanitarian, private sector, and other spheres.
If you are interested in hearing more about these innovations and humanitarian solutions, or you have one to suggest, attending our upcoming AIDF events will provide you with access to our sought-after round table discussions and unique pitch tank sessions with stakeholders from regional governments, investors, UN agencies, NGOs, research institutes and the private sector.
Find out more and register to attend: