Coordinating Disaster Relief Efforts: A New Tool for Relief Operations in Pakistan
20 October 2005 – When disaster struck, what if there were a single place to access up-to-date information about the affected area – including population statistics, major road network condition, and current relief efforts?
This idea was the impetus behind the Relief Information System for Earthquakes - Pakistan, or RISEPAK, a web site created in part by Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Asim Ijaz Khwaja. Khwaja is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the school and Faculty Associate at Harvard's Center for International Development.
"Looking at the tsunami and Katrina, the question seemed to be 'in sudden tragedy, how do you coordinate relief?'" says Khwaja. "As academics and researchers, we have all this information that could be useful, we just needed to put it all in one place."
The web site, which went live 19 October 2005, is a searchable database containing information compiled from population statistics, satellites, geographical systems, relief agencies, workers, and local officials. The database includes village-level statistics on such things as damage suffered and relief received for over 4,000 villages in the affected area. The goal, Khwaja states, "is to have no village left behind" in regard to aid.
Working on the site's development with Khwaja were experts from the World Bank, Pomona College in the U.S., Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Pakistan, Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), and Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Center, also in Pakistan. World Online, Pakistan's largest internet provider, also contributed and is now hosting the site.
Khwaja commented on uses for the site its creators hadn't even envisioned.
"One of the first posts we got was from a Pakistani man whose livelihood had been destroyed, saying, 'I need a job, where can I go?' That was something we hadn’t even considered. The adaptability of the site – the fact that anyone can post – is really important because no two disasters are ever going to be the same. But if you have 50 people posting about the same problem, then we know it's an issue that needs to be addressed."
All this begs the question: what about moving beyond earthquakes and Pakistan?
"Ideally, we think this is a model for any natural disaster. Every country, even a developing country, has this information, and satellite pictures are updated hourly. Within the first few hours of a disaster, we could have that information available, and in the next few hours, relief workers could be coordinating via the site, seeing the extent of the damage, the most affected areas, and what other organizations are doing…I really think relief coordination is also an issue of catching up and using the technology we already have."
Anyone with information on the relief effort can post directly to the site (www.risepak.com), or by sending text-messages, faxes, emails, or calling any of the listed phone numbers.