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How Can Disaster Relief be Coordinated to Make it Most Efficient And Effective?

When natural disaster strikes there is always an immediate and immense global outpouring of medical aid, food, supplies and support. Most times, this influx of aid is not accompanied by operational management and coordination through a centralized organization. Too often this results in aid transportation bottle necks, disproportionate supply surpluses, misallocation of resources, distribution delays, etc. All of this can put the most vulnerable disaster victims at greater risk and potentially cost more lives. Is there a better way to coordinate the good will, resources and energy of the global community to more efficiently and effectively bring relief to the victims of disaster?

Photo of Demian Repucci
19 27

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Natural disaster strikes and immediately, from around the world, governments, aid organizations, charities, religious groups, etc. mobilize and send people and resources to the damaged area. Often, the amount of aid coming in at one time overwhelms the local infrastructure and its ability to accept it. Planes are turned away from a crippled airport, or sit on the ground, unable to land or take off in heavy traffic without a working control tower. Once there, supplies are unloaded without a clear understanding of where they will be stockpiled, how they will be distributed or if they are actually needed at all. A shipment of donated clothing may be blocking the arrival of urgently needed medical triage units. Cases of clean water might pile up at the airport because there are no available vehicles to distribute it to refugee camps. Food is arriving to refugee camps which is good, but the victims also need tents and medical supplies to treat the injured. When will they arrive?
All of these problems and many more can arise when multiple governments and organizations react to a natural disaster. Aid reaches those in need but sometimes not as quickly as it should and sometimes it is not really the thing the victims need most. Is there a better way to organize and coordinate disaster relief to make the process as efficient and effective as possible?


One inspiration that comes to mind is a wedding gift registry that couples in the U.S. make of things they would like to receive on the occasion of their wedding. The gift registry is posted online at the websites of the stores the couple registered at. Guests buy gifts from the couple's list and check off what they purchased so that other guests will not buy more of that thing than the couple wants. The couple hopefully then ends up with most everything that they wished for and no duplicates or surplus of one or two items. Could this idea be applied to disaster relief? Maybe one central organization such as the UN could maintain a master list of needed supplies for a given disaster. Donating governments and aid organizations then can reference and check off as they deliver portions of the aid. The list could include not only items such as bottled water, tents and medical supplies, but also service requirements such as machinery to clear rubble, trucks to deliver supplies, engineers and health professionals. The list could be amended in real time as needs become apparent and aid organizations could tailor their subsequent deliveries accordingly. Instead of a disaster relief guessing game that results in surplus and distribution bottle necks, maybe some sort of open-source master list could be tailored on the fly and in real time to more efficiently address the needs of each particular disaster relief effort.


What other ways might disaster relief be systematized to make it a smoother process that helps as many victims as possible as quickly as possible?

Evaluation results

11 evaluations so far

1. Does this concept deserve a place on the i20 agenda?

Yes – it's definitely a significant global issue requiring innovation - 75%

Maybe – it's important but there are other issues which deserve more attention - 16.7%

No – it's interesting but not of global significance - 8.3%

2. Does this concept point to innovation opportunities that i20 leaders can discuss?

It points to a range of opportunities - 50%

It points to a single opportunity - 41.7%

It's indeed a challenge but doesn't point to opportunities - 8.3%

3. Is this concept well framed?

Yes – it relevantly covers the issue to promote onwards discussion - 25%

Somewhat – though the scope is either too narrow or too wide - 66.7%

Not really – interesting issue but this concept doesn't really invite conversation - 8.3%

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Photo of Thomas

hey, could we get rid of all the plastic bottle waste in desaster relieve? just look at the picture above: even there helpers import tons of plastic waste to rural areas with each plane load.

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