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Digitalisation in humanitarian aid: opportunities and challenges in forgotten crises

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By Pauline Veron

In 2020, as an estimated 243.8 million people were assessed to be in need of humanitarian assistance, and countries experiencing protracted crises have doubled to 34 in the last six years. Responsible digitalisation and innovative technologies can help, as they promise to deliver quick and cost-effective relief – a reason why the EU is committed to extend the use of secure and efficient digital tools in humanitarian actions.

However, digitalisation is not the panacea for all humanitarian challenges and without proper safeguards, digital tools come with significant risks. This note analyses the role digital tools can play in addressing the challenges of forgotten crises where affected populations are receiving no or insufficient international aid and where there is no political commitment to find a solution. The note also looks at some of the tensions and risks associated with the use of such digital tools and provides recommendations for the EU and its member states.

Technology should be seen as an enabler rather than a solution, and the focus should be on finding ways to harness its strengths while also mitigating its risks. Without the right resources, capacities, policies and governance, technology cannot fulfil its potential. Digital technology’s main purpose is to reach out to the beneficiaries more effectively and more rapidly. Thus, risks and benefits of using digital tools must be balanced and assessed against this primary purpose.