European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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© Pablo Tosco/Oxfam Intermón
© Pablo Tosco/Oxfam Intermón
What is it?

Digital technologies are a key enabler in delivering effective and timely humanitarian aid; they allow aid organisations to improve collaboration and communication and make the emergency response targeted to the needs of the beneficiaries.

Why is this important?

The humanitarian sector is increasingly testing and adopting digital technologies to improve the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian operations, in line with the Grand Bargain commitments. Furthermore, digital technologies directly affect people in need of humanitarian assistance by giving them a voice and providing them with access to information and services.

At the same time, the digital divide is still vast, with 52% of the world's population still not being connected to the internet. The divide is particularly high across gender and between developed and least developed countries. Additionally, data protection is a particular concern in light of the sensitivity of some humanitarian data. Data protection concerns must be heeded while ensuring non-sensitive data sharing to bolster efficiency and effectiveness in humanitarian assistance.

How are we helping?

As one of the world's largest aid donors, the European Commission's department for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations sees digitalisation as a priority focus area. As an emergency management organisation, the European Commission Directorate General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Assistance has been employing new technologies to focus aid on where the needs are greatest.

Cash-based assistance has been an entry point for digitalisation in the humanitarian sphere. Cash can now be delivered securely, often on the basis of biometric data and through a range of systems such as financial service providers and mobile phones, thus ensuring that humanitarian aid directly reaches people in need in a timely manner.

The European Commission's Emergency Management Service Copernicus provides all actors participants involved in the management of natural and man-made disasters, emergency situations and humanitarian crises with timely and accurate geospatial information derived from satellite imagery and open data sources.

At the same time, the European Commission recognises that the use of digital technologies in humanitarian operations should be people-centred and rooted in the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

The European Commission's priorities linked to the adoption of digital technologies for humanitarian assistance are the following:

  • Data protection and data ethics: the humanitarian sector must share a common understanding of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to ensure this is respected by all parties delivering assistance to affected populations.
  • Strengthening collaboration: enhancing digitalisation in the humanitarian sector requires greater data sharing in line with data protection standards, system and database interoperability as well as sharing lessons learnt on best (and worst) practices.
  • Focusing on impact and efficiency: digital technologies are showing positive effects where they are applied as part of the solution to a clearly defined humanitarian problem. The humanitarian sector is not always prepared to embrace the latest digital trends in digitalisation, which require dedicated support for digital skills development. 

In order to maximise the benefits of digitalisation for humanitarian aid, the European Commission will identify and focus on those digital technologies that have the potential to become real drivers of change for the affected populations. The department of Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations will lead the way by gathering the necessary technical expertise and liaising with other services of the European Commission in order to build synergies and boost effectiveness.

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