At the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa 2015, the Syrian refugee crisis will play a key role in the discussions.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are more than 50 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. And while predictions around the number of future displaced persons differ, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 50 million more people may be displaced within the next 10 years as a result of desertification and climate change. The numbers are staggering, as is the human suffering that is being endured.
Yet I would argue there has never been more attention or awareness to the issue of displaced people, thanks to the modern technology and the prevalence of social media platforms. The eyes of the world are gripped by daily media reports from all corners of the earth. Ebola in West Africa, the plight of Syrian refugees, the crises in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the recent double earthquake in Nepal, the increasing flow of migrants arriving in Italy and the conflict in Burundi are events that have captured the world’s attention.
The world of humanitarian response is challenged like never before with an ever increasing frequency of conflict, disasters, and environmental degradation. In fact, there are more conflicts and disasters today than at any time in human history.
Modern technology is increasingly seen as a way to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian response. Indeed, like many industries experiencing data, mobility and cloud transformations, the humanitarian response can benefit from the same opportunities. The challenge is knowing what technology to leverage, and how to best make use of this data and partners, while at the same time protecting the privacy of individuals.
In fact, the role of the private sector is hugely underutilized in the world of humanitarian response.
Companies are often looked to as a source of donations and aid, but the wealth of knowledge, innovation and scalable solutions that the private sector can bring could be worth far more than any cash donation.
For example, the use of mobile technology to assist in reconnecting families, early warning systems, access to internet and education resources, mobile payments and vouchers, identifying optimal logistics and routes, and data analytics on the spread of disease.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is running a series of business consultations in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. I had the opportunity to host the Nordic one. These events are incredibly spread out in time and could be perceived as mere bureacracy, but they have actually proven to be a highly valuable means of collecting input from businesses on humanitarian issues. The question at large is what, in real terms, will OCHA do next?
Regardless, we certainly need more strategic cooperation and coordination to leverage technology and private sector engagement. The solutions and the impact that the private sector can bring can truly be transformational.
The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa 2015 takes place at the Dead Sea, Jordan, from 21-23 May.
Author: Elaine Weidman Grunewald, Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Ericsson
Image:A teacher shows Palestinian students how to use new laptops at a United Nations school in Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip April 29, 2010. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa