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Photo: Adrienne Surprenant

Cities under siege: leveraging technology and diplomacy to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to civilians in dangerous and difficult urban areas


The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) will host an Open Situation Room for 15 to 20 participants in Montreal on 20 March 2017 in partnership with the Canadian Research Institute on Humanitarian Crises and Aid (OCCAH). This event is part of the Humanitarian Diplomacy Lab, a joint initiative by swissnex San Francisco, foraus and the Global Diplomacy Lab. The challenge will consist of trying to find solutions for first responders using new technologies for humanitarian issues.

Increasingly, war and conflict are taking place in large urban areas, and the international community seems paralyzed as regards finding creative ways to protect civilians in such situations. The recent battle for control of the city of Aleppo in Syria and the ongoing battle to drive IS out of the Iraqi city of Mosul demonstrate this happening in real time.

Innovative solutions need to be found in order to help the United Nations, NGOs, humanitarians and civil society groups to respond to urban conflict in a better way. This is particularly urgent today, as medical facilities and hospitals are being attacked by warring parties, as documented by Doctors Without Borders. The UN’s humanitarian aid convoys in Syria have been targeted by military force. We have also seen similar situations in South Sudan, a country that is currently experiencing a desperate famine. NGOs are increasingly unable to operate in cities and complain of the lack of access to civilians. The rise of non-state actors has also proven problematic, and they too have targeted humanitarian aid workers.

In an article in the Washington Post, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) explained how it tried to use technology to help the White Helmets, a Syrian first-responders group in Aleppo, using satellite imagery. HHI was faced with ethical and political challenges, but the attempt showed that the use of technology for real-time humanitarian needs is feasible.


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