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How to improve humanitarian response

There are many obstacles to getting food, medicine and funds to areas that need them the most. This week, the University of Agder hosts a conference on logistics in humanitarian operations.

Medicines often travel a long way before reaching their destination. This is part of the logistics for humanitarian purposes which is the topic of the conference Enabling Technologies in Humanitarian Supply Chains.
Medicines often travel a long way before reaching their destination. This is part of the logistics for humanitarian purposes which is the topic of the conference Enabling Technologies in Humanitarian Supply Chains.

More than 2,000 people have died so far in the latest Ebola outbreak in DR Congo. When transporting pharmaceuticals to the country, a lot of things can go wrong. The drugs must be procured, they must be stored as per prescribed conditions, shipped to Africa and transported to mobile hospitals.

“Shipping these medicines from Norway is not difficult. The problems arise when they reach Africa and need to be transported safely overland. This is about how we can coordinate the transport, make it more efficient through innovation”, Hossein Baharmand says.

He is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Information and Communication Technology and affiliated with CIEM – Centre for Integrated Emergency Management at the University of Agder (UiA).

Hossein Baharmand, postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Information and Communication Technology.

Organising conference

Baharmand organises the conference Enabling Technologies in Humanitarian Supply Chains at the University of Agder on 5 and 6 September in cooperation with the European Working Group on Humanitarian Logistics (EURO HOpe).

EURO Hope studies the challenges humanitarian organisations face in disaster areas. It may be disease outbreaks or natural disasters like earthquakes and floods, or complex events such as war.

CIEM on the other hand is a multidisciplinary centre consisting of around 30 researchers. The research is mainly in information and communication technology and how it can contribute to more effective disaster management. The centre cooperates with researchers from UiA’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research and the research institute NORCE.

“By organising this conference, we invite top researchers from Europe, America and Asia. We hope this will help showcase CIEM and our researchers as potential partners. It is also important to us to give our master’s and PhD students a glimpse into the research done in the field”, Baharmand says.

Blockchain and emergency response

On the programme is a presentation and demonstration of ITrack. This was a research project led by UiA and funded through EU’s Horizon 2020, the world’s largest framework programme for research and technological development. ITrack focused on increasing the safety and security of humanitarian missions and improving the efficiency of humanitarian logistics.

Baharmand will also present his research on blockchain and how it can provide more efficient cash transfers to disaster areas.

“Let’s imagine that I want to send money to the Philippines. If you count the fees charged by banks, middlemen and exchange transactions, as much as half the money can get lost on the way. By using blockchain we can drop the middlemen and transfer the money directly in minutes”, he says.

The technology is still immature and not ready for use though. Baharmand still sees many possibilities for the future.

“When transferring funds, I will be able to see that it has been received, while the recipient can follow the money all the way into his account without having to go to the bank. This will be very efficient, but more research is needed before implementation”, Baharmand says.

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