Mumbai – The U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai, working together with Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), sponsored a working conference on “Online Innovation and Disaster Relief” conference in Mumbai on January 23 – 24, 2017. The conference brought together approximately 40 policymakers, government officials, and academics from South-East Asia and the United States, as well as representatives from non-governmental organizations and for-profit businesses, who are active in disaster mitigation, planning, and response. The conference was built around panel discussion with actors in previous disasters, hands-on technology-sharing sessions, exploration of emerging tools, and discussions on regional coordination challenges.
Jennifer Larson, the Deputy Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General Mumbai, opened the conference by asserting that technology, in particular use of the Internet, offers the potential to boost the collective capacity of all sectors of society—government, military, business, NGOs, international organizations, and individual citizens—to render the most effective response to a disaster. Larson stated that the U.S. Consulate Mumbai wanted to encourage efforts to identify new technological tools to improve disaster response. Larson said no one country, bilateral partnership, or international aid organization can single-handedly meet every need when disaster strikes, and that cooperation between actors can spur innovation and efficiency.
In her opening remarks at the conference, Larson praised Indian leadership for its disaster response abilities in the region, as evidenced by India’s swift and comprehensive humanitarian relief response to the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. “In support of that growing role for India, the broad-based U.S.-India strategic partnership features expanding bilateral cooperation on disaster response, including enhanced military-to-military cooperation between the two countries in the form of joint exercises, training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” she said.
In other sessions, participants explored restoring coverage in the wake of a disaster, coordination in communications, ensuring that vulnerable populations have access to services, and financing of innovative research on the topic. Following the conference, a white paper will be issued, and ORF will develop and host a website of online tools which will be widely available to assist actors during a range of disaster relief situations.