The International Rescue Committee has announced that it has open-sourced its digital tracking system for humanitarian supply shipments, enabling other relief organizations to use and improve on it.
Developed in 2012 to track shipments of food and medical supplies in Syria, where IRC has had to depend on local organizations to pick up aid supplies at the border and deliver them to hospitals and refugee camps, the Commodity Tracking System tags each package with a unique QR code. When IRC's local partners pick up a package, they scan the QR code using a GPS-enabled Android device that transmits their location over WiFi to the CTS server, which includes a database of corresponding QR codes. Once the packages reach their intended recipients, the shipments are confirmed by email or Skype. Created with funding from the Netherlands-based Stichting Vluchteling and the governments of the United Kingdom and United States, the system requires no mobile data plans or SIM cards, which the Syrian government could use to track the location of volunteers transporting the supplies, and encrypts all data automatically.
According to the IRC, the system has enabled it to track the movement of all its shipments in Syria and has enhanced its accountability, transparency, and reporting to donors. Jake Watson, the organization's regional coordinator for Syria response, told Wired that while the organization isn't doing anything that UPS or FedEx haven't been doing for decades, the system is a godsend in destabilized regions where aid supplies are often hijacked. And while the system does not use location tracking technology to track lost packages, it does record which supplies made it to which organizations. Amid calls for greater accountability and efficiency in international aid delivery, IRC is making the software freely available so others can scale and use it in other locations and crisis situations.
"The IRC is proud to be a leader in the use of technology as it continues to play a transformative role in the humanitarian sector," said Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director for IRC's Syria response. "Our local partners continue to show bravery and commitment in making sure humanitarian aid reaches the most vulnerable as they work in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances inside Syria."