Ranking Atlantic hurricanes by cost in damages since records began shows that three hurricanes in 2017 (Harvey, Maria and Irma) make it to the top 5 ever. In one year, the cost of damages from natural disasters amounted to over $300 billion. 2017 was a record setting year for natural disasters, but it was not an isolated incident. In 2018, Ellicott City, Maryland was heavily flooded, with parts submerged, buildings collapsed and cars swept away after just two hours to rain. Hurricane Florence caused severe flooding in North and South Carolina and led to the death of 40+ people. And last but not least, the California wildfires that occupied our attention for months near the end of 2018, have amounted costs of over $3 billion, more than doubling of that after the 2017 fire season.
United States, the world’s most developed country, does benefit from effective preparedness and responsiveness; there is good awareness, infrastructure are largely capable to withstand high categories storms and cyclones and there is funding support from the state. On the ground, this is translated to invaluable front line support by organizations such as the Disaster Services Corporation. However, there are limits to what these supports can offer, especially when we look into the future. Studies show worrying long-term trends, where the number of recurring natural disasters are looking likely to rise year on year, and its impact to worsen at every turn. This means that the resources we have available to us are at risk of falling behind; levels of preparedness and responsiveness may face crisis, critically affecting those who are least equipped to respond.
This is not news to organizations and individuals working in the field of disaster response. There is a resounding consensus that approaches and frameworks surrounding the future of disaster response needs to be built with sustainability. Whether this is through donor relations that engage, convince and reassure at every step, or through transforming resource distribution to intended recipients for the most efficient and impactful results possible. Regardless, these are by no means ordinary feats to achieve.
TraceDonate - donations on the blockchain for transparency and sustainability
Working directly with the Disaster Services Corporation, it became clear very quickly that innovative technologies could usher in the foundational pieces for this sustainable future. AID:Tech’s products leverage innovative technologies like blockchain, smart contracts, artificial intelligence and machine learning. One of our products, TraceDonate, ensures transparency and traceability as an integral part of the donation process in order to provide security and structured, usable information that were previously inaccessible.
Guided by principles around digital identity, such as those set out in a paper by the World Bank and GSMA, digital identity sits at the core of what we offer. Blockchain digital identity enables the platform to connect donors with end-recipients, where organizations like the Disaster Services Corporation can effectively manage and distribute resources.
Empowering users through control over their data
At sign up, users are automatically provisioned with an AID:Tech blockchain digital ID. This ID securely documents donation journeys that start at the donors, through organizations to recipients. This means traceability around ensuring donations reach the intended recipients.
Once recipients received the donations disbursed to them by organizations, they can take their digital ID as payment method to merchant stores on the ground to get hold of the products and services they need. In AID:Tech’s other projects, these include grocery shopping and public utilities.
The goal of streamlining the access to resources, such as that provided by the House in a Box Program, through digitization is to make a difference to recipient’s experience when seeking support. Whether this is by efficiency through reducing bureaucratic burden, the ability to check out seamlessly at points of sale or the building of a personal profile with organizations, the objective is to enhance how recipients go about access to recovery support after a devastating natural disaster.
For donors, updates of these journeys are translated into real-time notifications when the donations they have made are received and spent by recipients.
What good data means for organizations
For organizations such as the Disaster Services Corporation, the same information, anonymized and structured, offers wholly different but equally immense value. Even with access only to high-level administrative data, it is possible to build bigger pictures, in the form of reports, around how resources surrounding disaster relief is gathered and utilized. This capacity empowers organizations to approach the effectiveness and efficiency of disaster relief processes in a systematic and sustainable way.
An example of how this data can be harnessed can be seen in the emergence of forecast-based financing. Incorporating data such as hurricane warnings with digital disbursement, organizations can identify vulnerable areas and demographics ahead of crisis hit and implement smart contracts that automatically deliver support resources to those already provisioned with digital ID. Thus, reducing the burden on immediate but currently reactive response on the ground. As this data accumulates year-on-year, machine learning and artificial intelligence play the part of improving accuracy of disbursements - transforming what organizations can do from a reactive position to becoming a proactive player.
The need to transition to sustainable solutions as soon as possible is evident. Organizations have been on the lookout for creative solutions to improve and strengthen for as long as disaster response has been around. Whilst there are a whole host of other challenges around resilience, the key offering here is an opportunity to reduce the dependency of disaster victims on already over stretched resources. Innovative technology solutions may appear nascent in the grander history of disaster response, but their potential in bringing transformative change for the better cannot be overlooked especially as more and more actors in the sector and beyond begin to work collaboratively. The deployment of TraceDonate, in support of victims of the California wildfires and for the House in a Box Program in Florida, are great demonstrations of these budding partnerships. It is within an ecosystem such as this that technologies can truly be built to serve real people and tackle real problems.
About the Author
Grace Ma, Program Manager at AID:Tech
Prior to joining AID:Tech, Grace spent the past few years working with early-stage startups in the blockchain and innovative finance industry. With a keen interest in emerging technology for sustainable global development, she works across the team, alongside founders and devs, covering a wide range of ongoing projects and product development.