NetHope is an organization that was developed by technology entrepreneurs who wanted to create a way to provide the right technology and communications services in the most effective way immediately after a disaster.
Formed with the support of several major technology companies, NetHope goes on the ground with a specific plan tailored for each disaster situation. They have observed and responded to the fact that all disasters are different, based on the nature of the event, the geography and the demography of the situation.
For example, NetHope responded to the situation in Haiti by setting up communications networks for the more than 200 small agencies that arrived to provide help. This 200 number does not even include the big international players – just the smaller agencies. The sheer volume of the response and the complexity of the number of responders trying to provide assistance created, in effect, a second disaster.
NetHope provides assistance anywhere in the world, but they do so once they have assessed the situation and the real needs and have developed an effective approach to the specific disaster.
Just as an example, in one disaster location, rather than accept delivery of a massive water purification system from a European government, NetHope recommended that, in view of the hilly terrain which was spread out over a long river basin, it would be much more effective to send in a team of well engineers to assess the safety and efficacy of locally built wells, and to help local residents re-build existing wells in addition to building new ones. The right relief at the right time translated into more effective, longer-term recovery economic benefits for residents and skill building for the longer term.
There’s a lesson in this thoughtful, customized approach that we can all learn. The next time we hear of a disaster, we might want to pause and learn from the experts on the ground what type of assistance is really needed. My bet is that more organizations will take the lead from NetHope and other entities that are working to create more effective relief systems – systems that actually translate into longer term recovery assistance.
So, we might consider sending cash contributions not only to the usual relief agencies but also to those that are taking a more measured, thoughtful response to the real needs of disaster situations. Victims of disaster will always need the basics – no denying that. The question is where those basics will come from and what other needs might benefit from our desire to help.