Catholic Relief Services disaster relief teams in India are saving precious time and getting help to some of the poorest people in this country more quickly than ever. We're also saving money and making it a lot easier to track the progress of our relief efforts.
Cyclone Hudhud hit coastal and inland areas of India's Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states on October 12, 2014, 1 year to the day after Cyclone Phailin had destroyed crops and homes in some of the same locations.
Namita Mali, a mother of four young children, watched as her mud-walled home, newly repaired after Phailin, collapsed in the strong winds and heavy rain.
"All of our belongings were buried in the rubble of the walls," Namita says. Relief seemed far away. "It will take my husband working in construction 6 months to a year to earn enough to begin reconstructing our home."
Families like Namita's needed essential supplies like tarps, blankets, sleeping mats, water purification tablets and flashlights. Portable technology enabled CRS to collect information about what they needed, enter it into a database and provide an easy way for families to get the items quickly.
After Hudhud, it took just 2 days to begin distributing items to families in Odisha. "It puts relief goods into the hands of people who really need them more quickly," says Kirtimayi Mishra, CRS operations manager in Odisha.
Technology Reduces Paperwork, Saves Time
In any emergency, relief teams need to fan out, identify the most vulnerable families and determine what they need. Traditionally, that information was recorded on paper, transported back to a central office and compiled into a database. The teams would then return to villages to distribute vouchers to families. Finally, the team had to make a third trip to deliver items, matching up recipient coupons and IDs with a master list.
Now, with a simple app and a tablet computer, workers can enter family information straight into a database at the first contact with those in need. In the process, CRS response teams give the family a ready-made plastic card with a QR code tied to their entry in the database. With their information embedded in the card, there is no need for the second trip back to a village to distribute vouchers. Warehouse workers get timely information about items most in demand so they can begin pulling and sorting goods for distribution. And the cards hold up well in wet and muddy conditions where a voucher might be damaged or lost.
In one of its first applications, more than 6,000 people were helped using this faster, better system.
Faster Relief, Fewer Mistakes
Namita Mali needed a shelter kit, a hygiene kit, blankets, a mosquito net and a flashlight. She received her unique QR code at the CRS team's first visit. Later, when Namita arrived at the distribution site, it only took a couple of seconds for the camera on the back of a tablet to read her QR code. The code gave CRS staff a detailed list of the items Namita needed. After she received them, Namita returned her QR code card to CRS to use in future emergencies. Because the cards are reusable, there is no need to spend time printing documents for each emergency response.
"This system eliminates an entire round of visits to distribute vouchers, which means we can get our prepositioned relief kits to families faster and with fewer errors," Mishra says.
In addition to improving response time, the technology helps CRS with daily bookkeeping, monitoring progress and refining the next day's distributions.
Namita didn't know about those benefits. But she did know that getting help a few days sooner benefited her family. "I am most excited to get the blankets right away" she says a few hours after receiving her shelter and hygiene kits. "The nights are getting colder."