Providing more effective assistance: Innovations in humanitarian aid

Getting to more people with innovations in humanitarian assistance, © UN OCHA / Yasmina Guerda

21.04.2021 - Article

With solar energy for a refugee camp in Djibouti or specialised situation maps for crisis regions, humanitarian assistance is getting more intelligent, faster and more effective. Germany is supporting innovative projects spearheaded by humanitarian organisations.

Innovations to tackle financial shortfalls

Whether owing to crises and conflicts, natural disasters or the impacts of climate change, the need for humanitarian assistance is increasing around the world. Many donor countries, including Germany, are making significant contributions, and yet the gap between the people in need and the funds available is widening. It is becoming increasingly important to make this aid more innovative and effective in order for the people affected to be able to receive the assistance they need also in the future.

Whether solar energy for a refugee camp in Djibouti or specialised situation maps for crisis regions, humanitarian organisations are coming up with creative ideas in their bid to achieve this objective. Germany is supporting them in this endeavour.

Green energy in Djibouti

Innovation can point towards new solutions and help save money at the same time. This approach has been particularly successful in Djibouti. Generators needed to produce electricity are powered by diesel in many refugee camps. This is not only harmful to the environment, but also expensive. It is often possible to supply a refugee camp with green energy, however. Together with UNHCR, Germany has helped to switch the energy supply at a refugee camp from diesel generators to solar energy. This can save around 500 million euro a year worldwide – and many tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Using maps to tackle disasters

In addition to often protracted refugee contexts, humanitarian assistance must also plan and take action effectively at short notice in many other cases. The UK NGO MapAction quickly creates specialised maps of the situation on the ground in order to stay on top of things also in sudden emergency situations, such as after natural disasters. In order to do this, geographic information system (GIS) experts travel to the scene of the incident within the space of hours and use specialised maps to support operational planning. Only when it is clear where settlements have been buried or flooded, which roads need to be cleared and what relief equipment is needed can the required assistance be provided in a targeted manner. MapAction produced maps of the port in Beirut destroyed by the explosion in the summer at short notice, for example. Right now (April 2021), MapAction is working in the region affected by the volcanic eruption on Saint Vincent. The Federal Foreign Office has supported MapAction since 2019.

H2Grow – plants without soil

In many places around the world, there is too little fertile land or water to farm. One example is Chad, where pastureland is practically non-existent. Despite this, refugee communities in eastern Chad were able to grow about 340 tonnes of fresh fodder for goats, cattle and sheep in 2020.

The UN World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator’s hydroponics initiative H2Grow gets technology to where it is needed most in a flexible and cost-effective way. Manuela Zierau, H2Grow project manager, had the following to say about this: “Hydroponics allows you to grow fresh vegetables and animal feed without soil and with only a little water.” Plastic bottles, crates, bags and canisters are just a few examples of waste materials that are recycled in the systems and used, for example, as growing containers or irrigation tools. H2Grow thus improved food diversity for more than 26,000 people in the past year.

From Munich to the world

The World Food Programme, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, founded the Innovation Accelerator in Munich in 2015, where a team of 56 people is working on new solutions to end hunger around the world. In addition to approaches such as H2Grow, the Innovation Accelerator harnesses areas of digital innovation – such as mobile technology, artificial intelligence and blockchain – to get aid to where it is needed. The Innovation Accelerator is currently working on more than 80 projects in 46 countries, helping 3.7 million people worldwide in 2020 alone. It also runs programmes on behalf of other partners, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Humanitarian Grand Challenge.

The Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Free State of Bavaria are supporting the WFP Innovation Accelerator to the tune of five million euro each year.


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