Written by Australian Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie Isbister

Over the weekend I travelled with Australia’s Foreign Minister to Fiji to assess the support that the Australian Government is providing to Fiji to recover from the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston. During the visit I was struck by the damage caused by the devastating storm, I was also taken by the obvious resilience of the Fijian people.

Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest recorded cyclone to have ever made landfall in Fiji, has caused severe damage, and sadly, loss of life. It is incredibly moving to witness firsthand the devastation and to be able to assist the Fijian Government and community in the response effort. Australia has provided emergency supplies, medical teams, food assistance and engineering teams. Our Australian Defence Force colleagues have also played an important role in transporting supplies, equipment and reaching remote communities affected by the cyclone.

With the backdrop of TC Winston it becomes even more critical to continually assess our capacity to assist people in the Pacific when natural disasters strike. Are we fit for purpose? Are there new technologies or approaches that can improve our work? How can we do better? The Pacific Humanitarian Challenge asked the world to find innovative solutions to problems that we face every time we respond to an emergency in the Pacific; problems that we are facing right now in Fiji.

DFAT Humanitarian Coordinator Jaime Isbister meets with Fiji Red Cross officials.
DFAT Humanitarian Coordinator Jaime Isbister meets with Fiji Red Cross officials. (All photos courtesy of DFAT)

On that note, I am delighted to announce the First Round Winners of the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge. It was a very difficult task to shortlist ten winning teams from what was a very strong field and I look forward to meeting all of the finalists at the Design Sprint event in Canberra at the end of March.

If you were not selected as a First Round Winner I want to emphasise how much we appreciated your applications and that we hope you will stay engaged in our community of innovators and apply for other opportunities as they arise.

That said, the top 10 First Round Winners have been notified, and now it’s time to show the world what these projects are going to do to enable better disaster response in the Pacific. The projects fall in three categories: communication and interpretation of needs, humanitarian logistics, and improving financial resilience.

Here they are, in no particular order:

BIMA Leapfrog – Mobile SME Insurance in the Pacific Islands

This program will use mobile technology to bring low-cost employee insurance directly to small- and medium-sized enterprises in the Pacific Islands at a price of just US $25-85/ family/year, which will improve financial resilience. This proposal was designed by Leapfrog, BIMA and Digicel.

Pacific Drone Imagery Dashboard (PacDID)
PacDID will implement an online dashboard that will provide a comprehensive overview of all imagery collected by humanitarian mapping drones and define required standards for data transfer and file formats. The proposal was submitted by Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) on behalf of the OpenAerialMap project team. OpenAerialMap has been supported by Development Seed, Azavea, and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund.

Vanuatu disaster response platform
This is a platform that will solve a range of bottlenecks relating to the capture, understanding and sharing of data to support disaster-related decision-making in Vanuatu. This project was developed by the Akvo Foundation.

Financially Resilient Pacific Communities
This project will explore two specific financial products, the first targets the micro level, creating an insurance product that will quickly inject cash into an economy following a natural disaster. The second targets the macro level and will create an insurance product that will finance the rebuilding of critical Infrastructure. The proposal was created by Save the Children, Bank of South Pacific and QBE Insurance.

Infrastructure-Independent Mobile Communications for Post-Disaster Use in Pacific Nations
This system will provide emergency communications for the Pacific Nations, using technology from The Serval Project, that allows Android smartphones to provide rich, cellular-like communications in the absence of cellular signal. This proposal was created by the New Zealand Red Cross and Flinders University.

Doing it for themselves: Ni-Vanuatu Women provide last-mile needs data using low-tech channels to feed an online portal
This program will build upon ActionAid’s work following Cyclone Pam to establish the Women’s I Tok Tok Toketa Forums, which have brought together over 4000 women from some of Vanuatu’s most remote and effected islands and represent a targeted effort to strengthen women’s voices and influence in disaster recovery, preparedness and response. This program was developed by SIMLab (US), Actionaid and the Vanuatu NDMO.

Rescue Robotics
This is a network of self-sufficient unmanned aerial systems located in remote strategic positions, linked to a command and control center. The system functions independently of local infrastructure and provides an information hub to relief organizations, linking them to a centralized data source in real-time. Relief agencies will be able to remotely annotate this information and obtain on-going updates. This system was developed in partnership with X-craft, Ignition Networks, Callaghan Innovation and Motion Design.

Firetail: Easily Deployed Low Cost UAS
The Survmatic Firetail is an unmanned aerial system consisting of a low cost foam wing, Australian made and designed Firetail autopilot and software to enable both the collection and presentation of real time georeferenced images and maps for damage assessment. This project was developed by Australian technology and UAV specialists.

Pacific Local Supplier Engagement Project
This project aims to increase the speed and effectiveness of disaster response in the Pacific by building partnerships between humanitarian agencies and local suppliers of goods and services. These partnerships will enable relief supplies to be purchased, stored and distributed quickly and cost-effectively during a disaster response, using local markets and supply chains. This project was developed by the Australian Red Cross.

Standardizing Early Reporting from Disaster Zones
The project seeks to develop a reporting system that will be used by local leaders to escalate emergency response up the existing disaster reporting chain. The reporting system will be scored against a prior knowledge of the area facing disaster, which will ensure information passed on is accurate, timely and unbiased. This proposal was developed by Menggeyao Consultancy Services.

What’s next for these teams?

These 10 First Round Winner projects will attend a two-day Design Sprint in Canberra, Australia, where they will receive coaching and support for their effective implementation in the Pacific Region. Afterwards, the Grand Prize winning projects will be announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey on May 23 – 24 and will share the $2 million fund. We’ll be able to see the impact of these projects on humanitarian action as they are funded to pilot or implementation across the Pacific in the next year.