HomeResearch and policyPublicationsIndigenous data in effective humanitarian responses

In the international humanitarian landscape, crisis interventions are deployed based on the assumption that local authorities are overwhelmed during a crisis and unable to mobilise local capacity. However, this is only true in some instances, such as natural disasters, where rapid response is needed to extinguish further harm to human life. In most cases, there are no mechanisms to make prior assessments that can inform decision-makers about the kind of international assistance needed in local contexts.

This is because existing data is mainly produced by international aid agencies and their governing political institutions. This database of knowledge, which leans heavily on a post-colonial Anglocentric viewpoint about ‘best practices’, is used to assess the ability of potential partners to mobilise their resources, while failing to include what local agents are capable of delivering and how to best support their response system (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction [UNISDR] 2008).

It is now undoubtedly clear that local populations living in harsh conditions have a database of practices and strategies embedded in traditional knowledge designed to respond effectively to natural disasters.

However, this has the potential to change as access to digital communication devices and technology in resource-constrained rural settings continues to emerge. This paper explores the ways in which Indigenous and local knowledge can contribute to forming intelligent and sustainable solutions to best mitigate and understand humanitarian crises. It also discusses how to curate, analyse and use local data and knowledge systems to create innovations that are sustainable and adaptive to the priorities of the local population.

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