World Internt Conference in China: use of digital technology for humanitarian work and the challenges
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Distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon!
It is a great pleasure for me to share my organization's experience in using digital technology to address the needs and risks of the most vulnerable people in conflict-affected and fragile contexts, thus laying the foundations for development and supporting the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
First, let me briefly introduce my own organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC. It is the oldest modern humanitarian organization. Earlier this year we celebrated our 160 years of work to bring relief to millions of people adversely affected by armed conflict. We strictly abide by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.
ICRC's experience in using digital tech for humanitarian work
The ICRC's humanitarian action is driven by its mandate, which was given to us by the international community. Although not driven by the UN SDGs, our work has significant overlap with those goals. In conflict-stricken places, people are at the greatest risk of being left behind. In these settings, we provide assistance and support basic services and infrastructure, which forestalls development reversals, preserves development gains, and lays the foundations for future recovery.
It goes without saying digital technologies are having a pervasive impact on most aspects of our society and our lives, even on conflicts. The ongoing digital transformation is generating a new wave of innovations and creating new opportunities and avenues to raise human welfare. The humanitarian sector is benefiting from these technological advances, too. For example, the ICRC now uses new tools to send critical information directly to the people most in need. And victims of conflict are also increasingly resorting to digital technologies to communicate their needs and situation. This has allowed us to target our aid more efficiently and coordinate better with our partners.
At a time when we see patterns of protracted armed conflicts, growing displacement and rising humanitarian needs, the ICRC is trying to harness the power of digital transformation and connectivity to design more impactful responses to the priority needs identified by the people and communities in situations of protracted conflict and crises. Such communities are increasingly connected, allowing for two-way information exchanges: e.g. real-time information on where refugees are moving to, and what are the critical security issues they face in fast-changing situations.
The ICRC is also leveraging Chinese companies' technological prowess to better understand specific needs of people in hard-to-reach markets and supply them with adaptive products. Every year, the ICRC buys more than US$20 million worth of goods and services from China to assist people worldwide. The ICRC has engaged in various partnerships with Chinese suppliers to develop innovative, sustainable and durable goods that are supplied to our humanitarian assistance programs worldwide.
Potential downsides of digital tech
While digital technologies can offer many opportunities to improve the lives of individuals and communities affected by situations of armed conflict or violence, there is also growing concern around their possible negative implications both in terms of risks and harms for already vulnerable populations. For example, advances in the fields of biometric and big data analytics are increasing the ability to identify individuals and information on them which can provide the means to discriminate and target individuals.
The humanitarian sector's growing use of digital and mobile technologies creates records that can be accessed and misused by third parties, potentially putting people receiving humanitarian aid at risk. Thus, trust, privacy and managing digital risk need to be key elements for engagement with people in need.
The ICRC is uniquely placed to make a powerful contribution to addressing extreme poverty in environments of conflict, violence and fragility. Our commitment to alleviating suffering in conflict remains as strong now as when we were founded 160 years ago. We will continue to build on our experience of making good use of digital technologies while mindful of their potential risks and harms so that we can effectively help those most in need to lead a healthy, productive and dignified life.
The topic of this forum provides a good opportunity for me to learn about the nexus between digitalization, poverty reduction and sustainable humanitarian operations. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from other distinguished speakers. I wish the forum a great success.
Thank you for your attention!