Humanitarianism in the Network Age (including World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2012)

In rich and poor countries, people are connecting through technology at an accelerating pace. In 2012, global mobile phone subscriptions topped 6 billion, including more than 1 billion smart phones, each with more computing power than NASA used to send a man to the moon. The planet has gone online, producing and sharing vast quantities of information.

Private corporations, Governments and humanitarian aid agencies are racing to understand how this will change the way they do business. Some see great opportunities; many face uncertainty. But everyone agrees that technology has changed how people interact and how power is distributed.
This report explores how new ways of interacting are bringing people in need closer to people who can help. It responds to the changing needs and practices of communities, volunteers and frontline responders. It tells the story of agencies listening to their demands for change and responding creatively.

The report imagines how a world of increasingly informed, connected and self-reliant communities will affect the delivery of humanitarian aid. Its conclusions suggest a fundamental shift in power from capitals and headquarters to the people aid agencies aim to assist.

For some, this is an unsettling prospect. It calls for more diverse and bottom-up forms of decision-making—something that most Governments and humanitarian organizations were not designed for. Systems constructed to move information up and down hierarchies are facing a new reality where information can be generated by anyone, shared with anyone and acted on by anyone.

This report focuses on organizations that are embracing these changes and reorienting their approaches around the essential objective of helping people to help themselves. It highlights their experiments and efforts to adapt, and the sometimes remarkable results.
But it also recognizes the pitfalls and the fact that progress has not always been smooth.

The first section is divided into four chapters. The first chapter charts how new communications technologies are already affecting people’s behaviour in emergencies.

The second chapter lays out some of the most pertinent features of these new technologies, and identifies the opportunities and difficulties in applying them. The third chapter describes how many aid agencies are adapting to a more open, participatory way of interacting with people in crisis, and how that is affecting their activities. The fourth chapter proposes a plan for humanitarian organizations to adapt.
The second section of this report presents country-level data and trend analysis relevant to humanitarian assistance. It brings this information together in one place and presents it in an accessible way. While researching this report, it became clear that there is no single, unified data repository that can support a better understanding of how humanitarian action continues to evolve. This section is a first step towards addressing this issue.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

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