News story

Disasters: top technology to save more lives

Britain will fund a range of innovative projects to save more lives in emergencies

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The UK Government will fund a range of innovative projects to save more lives in emergencies such as earthquakes, floods and famines.

Smart phone ‘apps’, super buckets and satellite technology could soon be helping people survive major disasters as part of a British Government scheme that will champion breakthroughs in innovation and science over the next three years.

The strategy will focus on improving the use of cutting-edge technology and innovation in responding to large scale earthquakes, floods and famines in a bid to get more help to more people in the aftermath of a disaster.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has warned that the world must become more resilient to future shocks if it is to cope with the predicted increase in natural and man-made disasters. He will bring together a group of world leaders on 20 April at the World Bank to ensure there is much more focus on and investment in this key area.

Experts predict that the number climate related disasters will increase, affecting 375 million people every year by 2015, 100 million more than 2010. Last year saw unprecedented disasters, including famine in the Horn of Africa, the Japan tsunami, New Zealand earthquake and floods in Pakistan.

The UK is planning to embed disaster resilience into all its aid programmes by 2015. In practice this will mean developing safety plans for schools, helping farmers use flood resistant crops, and provide communities with the skills and strategies to maintain their food supplies across times of shortage.

The type of schemes that could be funded include:

  • Mobile phone and satellite technology - as used in Haiti - to track the movement of people and the delivery of aid
  • Twitter and social media channels to reach those affected, including direct guidance on medical issues
  • GoogleEarth and e-mapping to locate people and disaster hotspots
  • ‘Gaming’ technology to train people in disaster response scenarios
  • Smart cards to deliver cash payments direct to those worst affected by disaster. Following the Pakistan floods, people were given cards to pay for essential goods and services
  • New sanitation devices, like the ‘Oxfam Bucket’, which can be sterilised and sealed, and has a tap, so water can be easily transported.

Andrew Mitchell said:

The simple fact is that the frequency and severity of disasters will continue to increase and international governments need to stay one step ahead, encouraging a Tomorrow’s World culture.

We live in an exciting world in terms of technological advancements but must ensure this translates into practical measures that improve our ability to save lives.

Britain has a proud history at the forefront of science and technology and through this project we will see that continue.

Nicolas Kroger, Manager of the Humanitarian Fund, Save the Children, said:

Our vision is a humanitarian system that is capable of innovating and adapting to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, and the British Government shares and supports us in realising this vision. In our first year we have allocated funds to 14 innovative projects and have started to change the way the sector approaches and thinks about innovation. The Government’s ongoing support means that we can build on this by organising additional funding calls and by promoting innovation as a means of achieving significant improvements in humanitarian performance.

The Department for International Development will commission world-class research, to ensure innovation steps out of the laboratory and into the lives of those most in need.

To date there has been little investment to promote innovation in the humanitarian system which moves quickly from one disaster to the next. This new strategy will make the system better and more efficient, saving money and lives.

Updates to this page

Published 10 April 2012