Top 3 Disaster Relief Innovations

Katmandu. Photo by Jorge Díaz.
Katmandu. Photo by Jorge Díaz.

This was a sad weekend, with news about a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal that has killed over 4,000 and injured many more so far. Natural disasters like this earthquake, the one in Japan in 2011, in Haiti in 2010 or the tsunami in 2004 are some examples of the great damage that natural events can cause, especially in developing countries.

The disadvantaged are always those who suffer most from these phenomena, since they tend to live in poorly built houses that cannot stand strong shaking. Nepal, with poorly constructed buildings combined with Katmandu’s local geology and tectonics, had been warned that a deadly earthquake could occur, reports the New York Times.

However, advances in technology and innovation are making disaster relief more effective. The following are some ways in which countries are better equipped to respond to disasters.

The first two ideas won the “First 72 Hours” challenge organized by Socialab and UNICEF to innovate in disaster emergency relief.

AguaPallet: a pallet for aid that also carries water

Access to water, together with shelter and food, is a priority after a natural disaster. This pallet can both deliver aid and serve as a water container. During the first 72 hours after an emergency it can be used as a “hand cart for easy transportation of clean water and supplies or as a raised floor for an emergency shelter,” the New Zealand winner team explained. Later, it still has value—the pallet makes water collection less time-consuming. It can even be used to make structures such as tent floors, stretchers, foot bridges or rafts when units are stacked.

Instanet: devices in balloons restore communications

This innovation tackles the challenges of communicating to provide or receive aid after an emergency, when the existing infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. Instanet proposed the deployment of a “plug & play” emergency telecommunication network for communication, zone mapping and response planning by spreading a large number of mobile telecommunication network nodes. A network of balloons is used to carry the cellphone and Internet connectivity devices and makes it possible to track people with cellphones as well.

Drones: can save lives, too

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, also known as drones, can be used to capture aerial images and assess the damage of disasters faster, cheaper and with better resolution than satellites. This helps emergency workers prioritize efforts quickly. Patrick Meier, director of social innovation at the Qatar Computing Research Institute, explained to Fast Company that drones can provide an accurate population count on the ground, too, and that some humanitarian organizations use these devices to “act as makeshift 3G and 4G cell towers” in those regions where Internet service is unavailable.

We hope these or similar innovations will be able to help the people of Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquake, and that countries that are vulnerable to natural disasters will increase their efforts to be prepared in case the worst happens.

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