Humanitarian Response in 2025

I’ve been invited to give a “very provocative talk” on what humanitarian response will look like in 2025 for the annual Global Policy Forum organized by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in New York. I first explored this question in early 2012 and my colleague Andrej Verity recently wrote up this intriguing piece on the topic, which I highly recommend; intriguing because he focuses a lot on the future of the pre-deployment process, which is often overlooked.


I only have 7 minutes to give my talk so am thinking of leading with one or two of the following ideas−but I’m very interested in getting feedback from iRevolution readers and welcome additional ideas about what 2025 might look like for OCHA.

•  Situational Awareness: damage & needs assessments are instantaneous and 3D Crisis Maps are updated in real-time along with 3W’s information. Global communication networks are now hyper resilient, thus enabling uninterrupted communications after major disasters. More than 90% of the world’s population generates a readable, geo-referenced and multimedia digital footprint, which is used to augment 3D situational awareness; Fully 100% of all news media and citizen journalism content is now on the web and automatically translated & analyzed every second; high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery for 90% of the planet is updated and automatically analyzed every minute; Billions of physical sensors provide feedback loops on transportation, infrastructure, public health, weather-related and environmental dynamics in real-time. Big Data Analytics & advances in predictive modeling enables situational awareness to be predicted, allowing for IDP/refugee flows and disease outbreaks to be anticipated well ahead of any displacement.

•  Operational Response: disaster response is predominately driven by local communities. The real first responders, after all, have always been the disaster-affected communities. In 2025, this grassroots response is highly networked and hyper-tech enabled, thus significantly accelerating and improving the efficiency of self-help and mutual-aid. The Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) is no longer a purely virtual network and has local chapters (with flocks of UAVs) in over 100 countries that each contribute to local response efforts. Meanwhile, close to 90% of the world’s population has an augmented-reality Personal Context Assistant (PCA), a wearable device that provides hyper-customized information (drawn in part from Quantified Self data) on urgent needs, available resources and logistics. National humanitarian response organizations have largely replaced the need for external assistance and coordination save for extreme events. International humanitarian organizations increasingly play a financial, certification and accountability role.

•  Early Recovery: There are more 3D printers than 2D printers in 2025. The former are extensively used for rapid reconstruction and post-disaster resilient development using local resources and materials. Mobile-money is automatically disbursed to enable this recovery based on personal insurance & real-time needs assessments. In addition, the Share Economy is truly global, which means that communication, transportation, accommodation and related local services are all readily available in the vast majority of urban areas. During disasters, Share Economy companies play an active role by offering free use of their platforms.

•  Data Access & Privacy: Telecommunications companies, satellite imagery firms and large technology & social media companies have all signed up to the International Data Philanthropy Charter, enabling them to share anonymized emergency data (albeit temporarily) that is directly relevant for humanitarian response. User-generated content is owned by the user who can limit the use of this data along the lines of the Open Paths model.

If you feel like this future is a little too rosy, that’s because I’m thinking of presenting two versions of the future, one that is optimistic and the other less so. The latter would be a world riddled with ad hoc decision-making based on very subjective damage & needs-assessments, highly restrictive data-sharing licenses and even the continued use of PDFs for data dissemination. This less-than pleasant world would also be plagued by data privacy, protection and security challenges. A new digital volunteer group called “Black Hat Humanitarians” rises to prominence and has little patience for humanitarian principles or codes of conduct. In this future world, digital data is collected and shared with no concern for informed consent. In addition, the vast majority of data relevant for saving lives in humanitarian crises remains highly proprietary. Meanwhile, open data that is publicly shared during disasters is used by tech-savvy criminals to further their own ends.

These two future worlds may be extremes but whether we lean towards one or the other will depend in part on enlightened leadership and policymaking. What do you think humanitarian response will look like in 2025? Where am I off and/or making unfounded assumptions? What aspects of the pictures I’m painting are more likely to become reality? What am I completely missing?

Update: Video of presentation available here.


4 responses to “Humanitarian Response in 2025

  1. Hello Patrick,
    Seven minutes isn’t much time, but it sounds like an exciting oppotunity. I don’t know if there’s time, but I think much could be made of developments (or not) in what we do when the humanitarian disaster is more overtly human exacerbated: (e.g the response to the Burmese typhoon that you wrote about in Peacework years ago, or the current humanitarian crisis spreading from Syria, or when the government in question tries to cut off the country from the web (a la Egypt a couple of years ago)).
    I would love for your optimistic version, in particular, to build on the visions and current work of the nonviolent peace force (, for example, massively scaled up.

    Similarly, along the lines of preventing humanitarian disasters, I think it would be great to imagine a greatly scaled up citizen peacemaking network, a la Peace Direct, To focus on Kenya for example, which I’m sure you know better than I do, consortia such as Tuvuke might provide blueprints for the future, (see, and At least in 2008 I believe Concerned Citizens for Peace in Kenya worked with and, right?), Witness, e.g., also in Kenya,, and others (, also highlight the potential power of mobilizing grassroots citizen peacemakers, networked with allies around the world.

  2. Hi Patrick, What a great opportunity and I like the creativity and vision that you present below. A few thoughts for potential discussion would be a ‘middle moment’ where the polarity of your presentations find pause , and brings those on both end of the spectrums in the room toward center for a moment.

    What would it look like when highly networked affected communities use sensors, 3-D printer and all the high tech that we can’t even envision today but are the drivers of hyper-local downgrading of tech to adjacent communities with less access, training, & knowledge and buy in for what u describe. So very much of the new tech but also a major advancement in the ways that we as a global community cross diffuse new ideas but revel in low tech options ( maybe high speed internet in 2025) much in the beautiful and necessary way some currently value radio at the moment and have been for decades. 🙂

    I think this may also apply to the ever growing conflict space. And perhaps a similar model applies. As what many fear with drones, sensors and information privacy I’m sure tech advances will innovate to mitigate risk but in the meantime the low tech human centered protective measures would continue to blend along with the high tech aiming to bring the last folks who buy in into reality but more importantly keeping those who may be more vulnerable as best safeguarded by allowing them to co-design low tech with high tech in this environment.

    I think what I’m suggesting I guess is a coda. Which speaks to the power of blended approaches particularly at the community level.

    Just a thought and always appreciate your willingness to ask others for reflection.

    Ps. This approach is likely stemming from my ongoing work in places like southern Ethiopia where villages I’m collaborating with just got electricity 1 year ago but they’re integrating ICT in a blended manner that is driven by community leaders and a local NGO.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Hey Patrick!

    Not only do I love that you are discussing this on your blog, but I’m even more excited that OCHA is leading this discussion and is open to hearing what many other NGOs are scared to think about.

    From my experience, and in my opinion, as disasters affect urban areas in more frequent and devastating ways, local governments are going to become just as tech savvy as more agile, grassroots, humanitarian-focused & tech-based NGOs and volunteer groups.

    Governments will start to acquire the very people who are leading today’s discussions about UAVs, social media, big crisis data, so on and so forth and build up their internal capacity, which currently is being served by DHN and the like. We are already starting to see this with governments testing UAVs and jetpacks (totally cool!) for disaster response.

    To me, this means that OCHA and NGOs position within disaster response will greatly shift in the next 7-10 years.

    I also envision open data becoming a standard (both for governments and NGOs) for the use and analysis by external actors to help fill information gaps wherever they exist.

    As the younger generation fill in more leadership roles both in government and NGOs, the disaster tech age will boom, as less tech averse leaders will have transitioned out of positions of authority.

    Please do share any feedback you get from your talk.
    I’m really interested to hear what comes of it

  4. Pingback: Video: Humanitarian Response in 2025 | iRevolution

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