SANTIAGO, Chile — On May 27, UNICEF and Socialab, a nonprofit organization based in Chile that focuses on creating inventive solutions to poverty, announced the two winners of their innovation challenge titled “First 72 Hours.” The challenge, which spanned four months, aimed to generate new ideas about how to assist people in the critical 72 hours after natural disasters strike.
The competition accepted proposals focused in one of four possible categories related to natural disaster relief: food and water, information communication, energy and health care. The disaster relief solutions were meant to improve on an existing technology, create a new type of technology or create a new product to meet the needs of those suffering from the immediate aftermath of humanitarian disasters.
In the first stage, the challenge’s website allowed any user to submit a description of an idea. In total, 278 ideas were submitted. The second stage narrowed this number down to 30 by taking into account the level of creativity, impact the product could have, practicality, as well as votes from online users. These teams created videos, detailed technical descriptions and completed interviews.
Thirty projects were narrowed down to five and were scrutinized by experts in the fields of emergency relief, business and innovation. At last, the two winners were chosen, receiving $15,000 to complete their ideas and the opportunity to develop them at Socialab.
The first winner, the AguaPallet, is an efficient and practical way to bring people safe water in the first 72 hours after a natural disaster. It is a versatile water container in the shape of a hollow shipping pallet.
In the team’s own words, “The AguaPallet is not intended as a complete replacement for either wooden pallets or bottled water. Rather, the AguaPallet is intended as an extra water supply option to give UNICEF more flexibility in their planned response, allowing displaced men, women and children access to clean water and opportunities to improve their situation.”
The design could be easily incorporated into current shipping methods, with the containers functioning as the pallets for shipments of other materials during natural disasters. In addition, when empty, the AguaPallet can be used as a flotation device, a makeshift stretcher or bridge or as floors in muddy tents. The design is cost-effective and the material is recyclable and sturdy.
Instanet, the second winning idea, is focused on restoring information communication pathways lost in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Often, telecommunications infrastructure can be offline or destroyed after disasters. To solve this problem, Instanet created a way to deploy a temporary network to communicate with and locate people in distress for the first 72 hours.
The team designed balloons that contain “mobile telecommunication network nodes” and antennas. When large numbers of them are deployed over an area, they create an emergency cellphone network, lasting for three days with batteries and solar panels. The Instanet balloons can be released from land or air-dropped and are both waterproof and weather-resistant.
When the network activates for the first time, all cellphones within range receive an alert that help is on the way, and people can use this network and their phones to directly communicate with the operator of the system even if all other networks are down.
In addition, the balloons can triangulate all cellphones within their reach and create a virtual map of the location of all devices, active or inactive, aiding greatly with search and rescue.
While these two disaster relief solutions will undoubtedly benefit people everywhere, they will also have an impact on helping to reduce poverty. Unfortunately, natural disasters disproportionately impact the impoverished. They can create poverty in the first place and exacerbate already existing inequalities.
Technologies like Instanet and products like AguaPallet will help people recover more quickly from natural disasters and get on the road to recovery.
Socialab and UNICEF worked together on the First 72 Hours challenge to inspire people to create innovative natural disaster relief solutions, and these two teams delivered.
Mac Glovinsky, part of UNICEF’s Innovation in Humanitarian Action team who helped organized the challenge and review the proposals, praised both winners, saying, “Aguapallet isn’t so technologically driven as it is about putting yourself in the place of someone affected by an emergency and thinking about what you could make with the resources around you, while Instanet uses cutting edge technology and creative thinking about new materials to provide a critical solution.”