Live Web Seminar 49: Monitoring Humanitarian Crises in the Digital Age: Crisis Mapping, Crowdsourcing, and Satellite Imagery

Watch Live Web Seminar 49

Developments in digital and communication technology have fueled significant innovations in humanitarian assistance and protection. Crisis mappers have used digital data to track beneficiary needs in real time and have collaborated with UN agencies and NGOs on various humanitarian initiatives. Additionally, images from satellites have helped humanitarians identify threats to civilians; have played a role in advocacy campaigns to raise public awareness about ongoing conflicts; and have been entered as evidence before several international courts and tribunals, including the International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the European Court of Justice.

While some practitioners highlight the benefits of the unprecedented level of information sharing facilitated by this technology, others warn of the challenges facing this emerging professional sector. In particular, analysts often offer conflicting interpretations of digital data, and various practitioners have expressed concern about the proliferation of flawed analyses. Some humanitarians have also cautioned that the publication of digital data could place civilians at risk by making information available to military actors. Such dilemmas have led to debates over how the humanitarian sector can most effectively harness the full potential of this technology while retaining a principled approach to humanitarianism.

In light of these complexities, this live web seminar will bring together expert practitioners to address the following questions:

Have remote monitoring methods enhanced the humanitarian sector’s capacity to engage in civilian protection? What measures can help practitioners reach an agreement on interpretive analysis and on key ethical issues, such as how decisions should be made about publicizing information that might place civilians at risk? Given the consensus-based nature of international humanitarian law, what legal and political complexities arise with the capacity to monitor situations from afar without a state’s consent?


Patrick Meier, Director of Social & Humanitarian Innovation, Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute (QCRI)

Luc St-Pierre, Senior Programme Officer, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)

Nathaniel Raymond, Director, Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI)

Moderated By:

Vincenzo Bollettino (Executive Director, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative)

Rob Grace (Research Associate, HPCR)