SEATTLE — According to the International Rescue Committee, the Syrian Civil War has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced almost half of the country’s total population—amassing a major portion of victims of one of history’s worst refugee crises.
As the Civil War enters its fifth year of conflict, international humanitarian relief groups have met the challenge of providing aid with constant innovation and tenacity.
In 2012, the IRC developed their Commodity Tracking System (CTS) with the help of grants from the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States and the Dutch humanitarian group Stichting Vluchteling.
This innovative system allows the organization to confirm reception of their shipments in order to improve its delivery strategy in Syria.
Many international non-governmental organizations “cannot deliver medical aid and other supplies such as shelter materials or heating supplies inside Syria for security concerns,” so they do not have direct control over the delivery of these shipments.
In order to increase “accountability, transparency and improved reporting to donors” the IRC developed this shipment tracking aid.
Each package is tagged with a unique QR code which can then be scanned by the civil society groups using a GPS-enabled smartphone with dedicated software.
The IRC depends on civil society groups for delivery at each checkpoint or border like those of Jordan, Turkey, or Iraq which are all used to deliver supplies into Syrian zones of conflict.
Packages are scanned crossing these points and once the delivery has reached its destination their delivery could additionally be confirmed by use of Skype or email.
Additional measures are also taken in order to assure the security of the packages and those involved in the shipping process: the transmitted data is automatically encrypted and stored exclusively on IRC servers.
On August 5, 2015, the IRC announced that it would open source this technology, making it available to all individuals and organizations that had an interest in emulating and improving its successful software.
“The IRC is proud to be a leader in the use of technology as it continues to play a transformative role in the humanitarian sector,” said Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director for IRC’s Syria response.
“Our local partners continue to show bravery and commitment in making sure humanitarian aid reaches the most vulnerable as they work in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances inside Syria.”
Opening the software to scrutiny from both the professional and amateur community of programmers would help improve the security and overall quality and workability of the software.
Compared to a relatively small number of developers, the program’s code would be available to possibly thousands of other people who can contribute their knowledge and skill to the improvement of this project.
Personalization of the software, which would be most beneficial to other international nongovernmental organizations who provide the same service as the IRC, provides the most immediate benefit to aid groups working to deliver vital supplies on the ground.
Other groups would have the capability of not only using this same software, but potentially tailoring it precisely to their needs and those of the area in which they are working.
The IRC has seen their Commodity Tracking System’s successes on the ground in Syria since 2012. Now, the benefits to open sourcing this humanitarian technology are apparent and numerous and could be decisive in preserving the lives of those who find themselves in need of humanitarian aid.
The technology and source code can be accessed here.
– Jaime Longoria