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ReliefWeb, a trove of resources for the academic community

By Véronique Durroux-Malpartida

While ReliefWeb was first created as an information-sharing platform to support well-informed decision-making in humanitarian crises, over the years the variety and comprehensiveness of its content have also made it a go-to resource for the academic community. Not only the humanitarians of tomorrow, but also many students and scholars in development and international relations are tapping into the tens of thousands of items collected and processed over the past 23 years.

We spoke to several academics to glean insight into what they deem particularly useful for their studies and research:

→ Background information

Dr Dorothea Hilhorst, Professor of humanitarian aid and reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies, part of Erasmus University Rotterdam, mostly uses ReliefWeb for reports or to compile statistics. She also taps the platform for background information before travelling or talking to the press. “I am often asked by the media to comment on events or aid-related issues, and I always consult ReliefWeb before talking to journalists so I know I have the latest accurate information,” she told us. Hilhorst also explained that as a faculty teacher she recommends students use the platform for the assignments she gives them.

→ Country pages

Dr Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings, a lecturer in humanitarian studies at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership, Deakin University, Australia, underlined how useful it is to have a consolidated area to find country-specific information. As she teaches and researches on humanitarianism, the country pages are an easy way to find heaps of information across time about a specific context. "Most of my research is on North Korea, so I find the ReliefWeb page for DPRK is great to see the latest reports coming out from humanitarians. Especially as there has been debate recently on the extent of the humanitarian situation inside the country, it has been useful to have the available data organised chronologically in one space," she told ReliefWeb by email.

→ Disaster pages

The ReliefWeb editorial team monitors disasters as they occur and aggregates timely, relevant information as it becomes available, from situation reports and humanitarian appeals to maps and infographics. The disaster pages represent a unique feature on the site and as such, a valuable asset for humanitarian actors as well as researchers. As part of their outreach activities, the ReliefWeb Bangkok team in July 2019 presented disaster monitoring projects in the Asia-Pacific region to delegates from the Department of Political Science of Brigham Young University in Hawaii. A reading list with selected reports related to topics requested by the school was eventually incorporated into the BYU-Hawaii curriculum. The Bangkok team also actively participated in the 2017 and 2018 editions of the University Scholars Leadership Symposiums (USLS) run by Humanitarian Affairs Asia, which attracts more than 1,000 student delegates from about 80 countries every year.

→ Themes and Vulnerable Groups

Themes such as ‘Health’ and Vulnerable Groups such as ‘Children’ are among the most popular search filters. Dr Sameh Al-Awlaqi, a humanitarian aid worker and health specialist working in Yemen, often used ReliefWeb when evaluating the performance of the Health Cluster in Yemen in 2015-2018, while studying at the University of Sheffield, UK. “I would select ‘Health’ and ‘Yemen’ to find reports, response plans, and infographics, but particularly useful to me were the results of health and nutrition surveys, as well as updates about the health situation in Yemen in general,'' he explains.

→ Organizations

More than 3,000 organizations are listed on ReliefWeb as reliable sources of information, whether for reports, maps, jobs or training opportunities. It is frequently a great way for researchers to find out about entities working in their area of interest. When our consultant Matias Pousa Baliani made a presentation about ReliefWeb to the Italian Society for International Organizations (SIOI) in Rome in December 2018, several postgraduate students said they found the vast array of sources to be very valuable, particularly primary sources for academic research that were previously unknown to them. From small NGOs to less well-known UN entities, the platform gave them a better and more comprehensive view of stakeholders.

→ Topic Pages

In the course of reaching out to academic students and lecturers, we realized there was lesser-known curated content, such as our 17 topic pages, which could be a great information resource for research. These dynamic pages, which cover issues as varied as humanitarian financing, education in emergencies or the crisis in Lake Chad Basin, present the latest updates, “must read” documents and useful links.

ReliefWeb has also been at the centre of specific research projects on humanitarian action, whether as a tool to learn about the performance of the humanitarian community, or as an indicator of the availability of information for the community. Come back to this space for more details on those projects soon!

Let us know if you are using ReliefWeb for academic purposes, and as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback to improve our services further.

Presenting ReliefWeb to Law, International Relations and Political Science students in Ferrara, Italy. Photo: European Law Students' Association/Ferrara