Q&A  | 

Can technology mitigate poverty? A Q&A with Raquel Bernedo, member of Red Cross

"Tech tools such as the Community Based Surveillance (CBS) allow community members to detect and report events of public health thus helping mitigate diseases, vulnerability and poverty".

Tags: 'AI' 'cruz roja' 'emergencia' 'pobreza' 'raquel bernedo' 'tecnología' 'vulnerabilidad'

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Raquel Bernedo works in the Disaster Management Unit (DM Unit) of the Spanish Red Cross (SpRC) and is responsible for Information Management in Operations.

Expert in information technology and telecommunications in international emergencies, Bernedo has participated in missions in Greece where she has been able to apply data collection and other systems to prevent other crises and thus mitigate situations of vulnerability and poverty.

The Red Cross increasingly applies technology in its work and also considers that, in the hands of the most vulnerable, it is one of the most useful tools for economic development.

What are the main causes of poverty nowadays?

For us poverty is intimately related to vulnerability and we understand there are a series of predominant factors: poor access to educational resources and referents, subsidised minimum income, unemployment or precarious employment, illegal income activities, precarious housing, prostitution, mistreatment, racism, sexual abuse, drugs, imprisonment, homelessness, unfavourable environment, exogenous diseases, endogenous diseases, problems arising from a situation of immigration.

Vulnerability may vary in its forms: poverty, for example, may mean that housing is unable to withstand an earthquake or a hurricane or the lack of preparedness for disaster response, leading to greater losses of life or prolonged suffering.

In a context of pandemic and climate change crisis, vulnerability is specifically growing in displaced populations due to sudden impact disasters -such as an earthquake or a flood-, threat or conflict, as a coping mechanism and with the intent to return. Migrants also leave or flee their homes for better and safer perspectives. And it’s also impacting  returnees, specific groups within the local population, such as marginalised, excluded or destitute people, young children, pregnant and nursing women, unaccompanied children, widows, elderly people without family support and disabled persons.

Can technology help mitigate poverty? If so, how?

Technology can help prevent and mitigate poverty. During the past few years, organisations have been gathering large amounts of data in order to improve the emergency response.

In Understanding Changes in Poverty the World Bank states: “We face big challenges to help the world’s poorest people and ensure that everyone sees benefits from economic growth. Data and research help us understand these challenges and set priorities, share knowledge of what works, and measure progress”.

On the other hand, technical devices allow vulnerable people better access to health prevention, safe water and education, among others.

Does the Red Cross use technology in emergency management, and can you mention some cases?

The Red Cross is using technology more and more. Some examples are:

  • Mobile Data Collection and Business Intelligence can prevent outbreaks with the analysis of the information and increase the accountability to donors and beneficiaries, as well as helping to create proper reports and disseminate information and lessons learnt with more accurate data.
  • Missing Maps. With the mapped information and geographical analysis, organizations are able to improve and define better projects in different areas: livelihood, nutrition, health, WASH, etc., and also help during emergencies, detecting the most affected areas and communities.
  • RC2 Relief Tool improves the ability of humanitarian organizations to better understand needs, distribute relief items, provide cash assistance, and conduct a variety of other humanitarian activities. It also reduces duplication of efforts and ensures less time is spent managing data. This technology will amplify the work of humanitarian volunteers and improve our accountability to disaster-affected populations and donors.
  • Drones are used for post-disaster and pre-disaster planning, generating videos and photographs for public relations campaigns, acquiring an “eye in the sky” for situational awareness during chaotic situations, generating 3D models for post-disaster structural analysis, and using high-resolution maps created with drone imagery to monitor swiftly-growing refugee camps.
  • Community Based Surveillance and Epidemic Control for Volunteers. CBS is the systematic detection and reporting of events of public health significance within a community by community members. By allowing for volunteers from the communities to report on health situations we can ensure that the right help is provided, in the right place and at the right time.
  • Household Water Treatment.
  • IFRC GO: IFRC GO aims to make all disaster information universally accessible and useful to IFRC responders for better decision making.  
  • Surge Information Management Support (SIMS): The SIMS project is a network of trained specialists who develop, coordinate and implement information management systems for global Red Cross and Red Crescent disaster response operations.

Is there a downside to the use of technology in this area that you think should be addressed?

On the one hand, organisations must make sure that the technologies implemented in the field are sustainable. Otherwise, and if the costs associated are too high, they will not last over time. Organisations must try to apply the KISS principle: Keep It Super Simple.

On the other hand, organisations need to make sure that technology follows the principle ‘do not harm’ as established in the Rules for Red Cross and Red Crescent Humanitarian Assistance: “All assistance should seek to minimise any potentially harmful social and economic impacts of assistance (“do no harm”), as well as take account of international environmental standards”.

Some experts alert about the increasing control of society by big tech companies. Do you think technology to mitigate poverty and technology for emergency management contribute to that too?

As long as communities are informed, participate and take part on the project’s decision making, always considering and respecting data protection, and establishing technical measures and procedures to protect data, society should not be negatively affected by technology.

Do you consider international aid approaches to be working?

One size does not fit all, the mix of tools and mechanisms, together with working with local counterparts and the directly affected population, allows a balanced approach to humanitarian aid. It is true that a thorough analysis of the different situations and evolution of needs is crucial for a good response. Technology and innovation allow for faster analysis and innovative implementations.

Can we eradicate poverty?

It should be everybody’s goal. Counteracting vulnerability requires reducing the impact of the hazard itself where possible (through mitigation, prediction and warning, preparedness); building capacities to withstand and cope with hazards; tackling the root causes of vulnerability, such as poverty, poor governance, discrimination, inequality and inadequate access to resources and livelihoods.

Physical, economic, social and political factors determine people’s level of vulnerability and the extent of their capacity to resist, cope with and recover from hazards. Clearly, poverty is a major contributor to vulnerability. Poor people are more likely to live and work in areas exposed to potential hazards, while they are less likely to have the resources to cope when a disaster strikes.

In richer countries, people usually have a greater capacity to resist the impact of a hazard. They tend to be better protected from hazards and have systems in place. Secure livelihoods and higher incomes increase resilience and enable people to recover more quickly from a hazard.

Disasters jeopardise development gains. Equally, development choices made by individuals, households, communities and governments increase or reduce the risk of disasters whatever the origins, related to health or nature.