How to harness technology and collaboration to boost disaster risk reduction

Coders review an open source web application entry at the Race for Resilience Ishinomaki Hackathon in Japan. The World Bank's Code for Resilience initiative aims to harness the latest technology to "hack" a solution for disaster risk management. Photo by: Takuya Oikawa

Disasters come with massive costs — $3.8 trillion between 1980 and 2012, according to one study. Beyond the many lives lost, local economies are often left in disarray caused by damage to property and vital infrastructure.

How can the international community help to mitigate the effects and risks of disasters? The World Bank is focusing on two solutions: technology and collaboration.

Through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, the bank has launched an initiative designed to harness cutting-edge technology for disaster risk management. The Code for Resilience involves a series of events called “hackathons” in major cities and seeks to engage members of civil society and the private sector in the cause.

“With the impact from natural hazards like floods, typhoons and tsunamis around the world, now more than ever we need to be building innovative, local partnerships and solutions that strengthen resilience to disasters at the community level,” Francis Ghesquiere, GFDRR head of secretariat, told Devex.

The maiden hackathon took place in January in Peshawar, Pakistan, witnessing almost 100 coders and government agency representatives devise or “hack” solutions to the country’s disaster resilience issues. One of the technological breakthroughs that emerged from the event was an application that sends emergency alerts to family and friends at the push of a button.

Aside from enabling the bank to partner with and tap the expertise of organizations from a variety of sectors to advance innovation in disaster preparedness and recovery, according to Ghesquiere the hackathons have also paved the way for collaborations between these sectors, “whose sustained engagement is needed to create a sustainable, resilient community.”

The Code for Resilience “has led to increased awareness of local disaster resilience challenges, helping shore up knowledge and action to address them,” Ghesquiere said.

The hackathons typically yield an overwhelming number of proposed applications. Duplication of ideas is thus not unusual. To prevent this, GFDRR has published a repository that showcases software applications commonly used in disaster preparedness and resilience efforts.

The World Bank recently wrapped up a similar gathering in Tokyo and will hold future hackathons in Dhaka, Bangalore, Colombo, Manila and Jakarta. And in March, GFDRR will launch the Code for Resilience online innovation challenge, where developers will receive expert mentoring support to help them build, test and refine their ideas. Winners of the online challenge will then get to pitch their proposed solutions during an international conference on disaster risk management scheduled for July in London.

Read our previous #innov8aid.

About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.