According to this Reuters article, “Quake-stricken Pakistan heaved a sigh of relief” when donors offered Islamabad some $6 billion in aid pledges this weekend. If anyone is heaving sighs of relief, it’s likely to be the donors, who have finally reinvigorated a global response that Kofi Annan has called “weak and tardy” (Seattle Times). The 3 million homeless earthquake survivors, on the other hand, are far from relief—quite literally. Currently, coordination and delivery of relief assistance is a nightmare. No one seems to know where money, food or medicines are coming from or should be heading to; multiple relief organizations are rushing into the same villages and overlooking others in dire need; and donors may soon start lamenting that they do not know where their aid dollars are going.
To try to address these information and coordination problems, a consortium of researchers, policymakers and entrepreneurs from US and Pakistani universities, multilateral organizations and the public and private sector has launched Relief Information System for Earthquakes (RISE) – Pakistan, an innovative disaster response web portal that publicly provides information about the most important needs of each village and what sort of aid has already reached there, in order to help relief organizations coordinate their efforts and match aid to village needs. Disaster and relief data for more than 700 villages is already available, and new information from even very remote villages is updated online within hours of submission, which can even be through cellphone text messages. In addition, the database provides geographical and demographic information for the 4,071 villages in quake-affected areas.
I have volunteered as part of the RISEPAK team to provide regular analysis of the data, and I get a sense of its great potential. For instance, people interested in donating money for relief can easily use the database to see which organizations are providing regular information about their aid work. Also, after just a preliminary look at the data, we discovered reports from villages thought by policymakers and relief workers to have been unaffected by the quake, but which are actually in dire need of relief.
A World Bank press release provides more information about the initiative, which the Bank’s PSD blog calls “an excellent example of public-private collaboration (and expediency).”