Sixteen Technology-Driven Innovations Tackle Emergency and Humanitarian Challenges

The Humanitarian Innovation Accelerator Programme (HIAP) seeks to bring together solutions that tackle challenges encountered by humanitarian actors. This month, sixteen selected teams will undergo a bootcamp and then present these tech-driven solutions at a Pitch Event in Luxembourg.

WFP Innovation Accelerator
9 min readJun 7, 2023

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By Sanjna Sudan and Anaswara Kovithal

Illustration: Sanjna Sudan/WFP

With the increasing complexity of crises and the strain on humanitarian financing systems, it remains a constant challenge for humanitarian actors to support the growing number of crisis-affected communities. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), a staggering 339 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2023, marking a significant rise from the 274 million individuals requiring aid at the start of 2022. The compounding challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts, climate shocks, soaring inflation, and rising operational costs have further intensified the needs within the humanitarian sphere.

Despite estimates from the UN and partner organizations suggesting a requirement of approximately US$51.5 billion to aid 230 million individuals across 69 countries, this amount still falls short of providing assistance to all those in need worldwide.

To confront the challenges faced by humanitarian actors and improve the lives of affected populations, the WFP Innovation Accelerator, the Government of the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, and the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) have initiated the Humanitarian Innovation Accelerator Programme (HIAP). The Programme aims to support technology-powered solutions addressing pressing global challenges. Through the programme, we received an impressive 379 applications from 85 countries. After a rigorous selection process, sixteen teams have been chosen to participate in the HIAP’s Bootcamp, which will take place from 5 to 9 June. These selected solutions will then apply to a sprint programme for the opportunity to receive financial, technical, and methodological support. On 29 June, teams will present their projects in front of potential funders, government officials and industry leaders during a pitch event in Luxembourg. Register now if you would like to watch the live stream of the event.

Learn about our selected ventures:

White Helmets

The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense forces, want to use drones to improve their ability to survey areas where landmines might be present.

By integrating drones into their operations, they hope to make the process of detecting and dealing with explosive weapons safer and more efficient. Currently, there are dangers for operators who manually survey these areas, as there may be undetonated landmines. The use of drones can reduce the risk for the operators and also save time and money in identifying unexploded weapons. In their work during the Syrian Crisis, the White Helmets have already saved over 100,000 lives by finding and dealing with these dangerous weapons.

Photo: White Helmets

Opero

Opero has developed an innovative and self-sustaining Faecal Sludge Treatment Unit (FSTU) to contain and treat human waste safely, in refugee camps and internally displaced population (IDP) settings.

Lack of adequate sanitation facilities and sufficient treatment capacity is one of the most common challenges in IDP (internally displaced persons) settlements and refugee camps, meaning that untreated sewage is dumped directly into the environment. The modular design enables this emergency sanitation solution to be rapidly deployed in any challenging environment. The unit’s deployment in Kisumu, Kenya, has prevented the omission of 660 m3 of greenhouse gases into the environment.

Photo: Opero

West Africa Context Analysis and Foresight Initiative (WACAFI-Danish Refugee Council)

The West Africa Context Analysis and Foresight Initiative (WACAFI) model, developed by the Danish Refugee Council, is a machine learning model designed to accurately forecast displacement in the Sahel region.

Leveraging open-source data on conflict, food insecurity, vegetation health, and the prevalence of underweight individuals, this model predicts the number of internally displaced people at a regional level, providing valuable insights for future planning. By analyzing this information, the WACAFI model can project, with a lead time of 3–4 months, the expected scale of displacement in the near future.

Photo: AI-generated using Midjourney by WACAFI. Prompts used: organic data safety net under refugees and displaced, illustration

Open Algorithms (OPAL) for Humanitarian Action

Open Algorithm for Humanitarian Action by Data Pop Alliance is a privacy-preserving technology and governance system that shares sensitive information safely and ethically for humanitarian action.

It extracts key indicators and insights deemed relevant and safe by local stakeholders, for a wide range of potential use cases in crisis contexts. The development of such a model is done in engagement with communities to build on and enhance local capacities and knowledge.

Photo: OPAL/Talla Ndiaye

Jangala

Jangala’s Big Box is a lightweight briefcase-sized device that transforms any form of internet connectivity into Wifi that is easy to manage and scale.

A lack of easily deployable, capable internet access is one of the biggest barriers to being able to deliver services in humanitarian settings. Jangala partners with United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Gaza Field Office to connect twenty schools to the internet using Jangala’ self-designed and self-developed Big Box Wi-Fi solution.

Photo: Jangala

Waterkit Wallet

WaterKit Wallet is a money-powered card that allows communities to access credit easily. With this card, a community member can directly access credit for WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) and energy products. Users do not pay any interest rates and can use the card at community/village stores to get the required products.

Powered by a microfinance banking system, the solution also has a digital wallet that allows individuals and organisations to directly donate for WASH and energy projects to those in need. The solution has currently enrolled 500+ water sources in Uganda that are actively monitored and are ready for operation.

Photo: Denis Ogwang/WaterKit

Digital and Spatial Technologies for Anticipatory Action (DASTAA)

Digital and Spatial Technologies for Anticipatory Action (DASTAA) is a mobile and web-based application used for conducting household surveys that can assess individual households’ vulnerability and generate targeted risk profiles.

It is powered by the Action pour le Développement du Sahel (ADESA), Niger. The lack of integration between disaster risk assessment, forecasting, and risk communication limits the ability of the humanitarian actors to provide early action. The DASTAA platform, therefore, utilises digital and spatial technologies to automatically identify and send tailored early action messages to households at risk via mobile phones.

Unifyaid (Statwig)

UnifyAid by Statwig is an Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain application to streamline aid delivery, ensuring timely and efficient distribution of resources to those in need.

The platform is designed to connect all stakeholders involved in the delivery process of humanitarian assistance, from suppliers to vulnerable communities. UnifyAid has been developed and tested with the Government of Telangana, India to address supply chain inefficiencies in the distribution of supplementary nutrition to pregnant and lactating mothers.

Humanity Link

Humanity Link is a digital platform that offers seamless registration and communication channels for individuals who are displaced, regardless of their literacy level or language proficiency. It caters to both smartphones and basic phones.

The platform facilitates self-registration for those in need, and conducts data cleaning, deduplication, and vulnerability assessments. It is also integrated with financial service providers to ensure quick and efficient disbursement of funds to those in need.

Photo: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

Bleaglee

Bleaglee develops drone software that can inspect improperly disposed waste in drainage channels and waterways.

The team collaborates with waste collectors and youth environmental groups to collect and properly dispose of the waste, or sell it to recycling companies. Using the software, drones follow predetermined paths to identify poorly disposed waste through image analysis. The software generates reports that serve as early warnings for potential flooding caused by garbage obstructing drainage channels. Through its digital platform, Bleaglee offers on-demand waste recycling and disposal services for packaging waste to individuals and businesses. Payments are made conveniently through mobile money systems.

Photo: Tamajong Noel/ BleagLee

Balcony

Balcony is a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that offers solutions for dynamic field operations and emergency management.

The platform utilizes location-based messaging, thereby enabling swift and adaptable communication, real-time collaboration, and coordination tied to the physical location of an emergency and the relevant individuals involved. It integrates diverse data sources and tools, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), polls, and reports, into a user-friendly interface. One of the platform's advantages is its adaptability in travel restricted and hardship situations and its ability to cross verify information.

Photo: Balcony

Zite

Zite is a frontline operations management and service referral platform designed to optimise response and decision-making processes for humanitarian organisations and teams.

It streamlines and automates workflows, benefiting teams engaged in activities like refugee camp management, reconstruction support, and community aid delivery. Zite is currently supporting the camp coordination activities along with various UN agencies in Cox Bazaar, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Yemen.

Photo: Kuldip Malla/Zite

WASDI

WASDI is an open-source Earth Observation (EO) platform that harnesses cloud-based satellite data and remote sensing technologies to enhance stakeholders’ decision-making processes in disaster assessment, response planning, and proactive action.

It has several use cases, such as during floods, forest fires, and monitoring oil spills; all developed by the WASDI team and its partners. The platform ensures interoperability among its applications and facilitates seamless integration with third-party systems.

NeuroTech

NeuroTech offers an innovative energy monitoring and management solution, promoting equitable electricity distribution, particularly in vulnerable communities.

Their solution caters to refugees in camps and individuals in remote areas who are seeking connectivity to the electricity grid. By integrating advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, electronics and networks, NeuroTech optimises efficiency and fosters fair resource sharing.

Photo: Neurotech

Speetar

Speetar is a patient-centric digital health platform in Libya that connects under-served patients in post-conflict communities with culturally aligned health specialists.

It provides a holistic healthcare management system, including cloud-based electronic medical records, doctor-patient scheduling, real-time identity verification, billing, and video conferencing, all integrated into a unified solution. Furthermore, Speetar can quickly deploy crisis-oriented applications like its COVID-19 app, created in partnership with Libya’s Ministry of Health. This app acts as the main triage point and supports contact tracing within the country.

Photo: Speetar 2023

Somleng

Somleng is an Application Programming Interface (API) that automates Interactive Voice Response (IVR) calls through local mobile network operators or aggregators.

In times of crisis, it utilises radio capabilities to send emergency audio and text messages directly to at-risk communities via traditional 2G or edge connection voice calls. This helps overcome obstacles such as the lack of internet access during emergencies, as well as illiteracy, as the audio messages can be recorded in local languages.

Photo: Fani Llaurado/Somleng

The Humanitarian Innovation Accelerator Programme, a collaborative effort between the WFP Innovation Accelerator, the Government of the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, and the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC), seeks high-impact innovative solutions to address the pressing emergency and humanitarian challenges faced by vulnerable populations and humanitarian actors.

With a core focus on leveraging technology, this programme supports and nurtures solutions that can effectively tackle global challenges within the humanitarian sphere. Through a meticulous selection process, ventures and solution providers are chosen to receive comprehensive support including financial backing, technical expertise, and methodological guidance from the WFP Innovation Accelerator and its esteemed partners.

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.