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Uniting with Hackers in Search of Disaster Solutions

Random Hacks of Kindness - Events Across the World
Glimpses of hacking events from across the world

June 24, 2010

In partnership with Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and NASA, the World Bank is searching the globe for solutions to disaster response, preparedness and mitigation challenges. This unlikely partnership, known as Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), works at the grassroots to connect people through ‘challenges’ to software engineers who develop practical real world solutions.

The purpose of the “RHoK hackathons” is to develop innovative solutions that are applicable to real-life situations and problems. Although three of the biggest technology companies in the world are among RHoK’s founders, RHoK is technology agnostic. The goal is to provide communities afflicted by natural disasters with the best possible solutions regardless of delivery platform, operating system or development tools.

 "The Random Hacks of Kindness initiative fits squarely within the World Bank’s goal of using all the tools at our disposal to reduce risk and alleviate suffering among the world’s most vulnerable populations," said Francis Ghesquiere, Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist in the Latin America and Caribbean region at the World Bank. 

RHoK’s first Hackathon was held in November 2009 in the US, and resulted in software solutions that were later implemented in Haiti and Chile following the devastating earthquakes there in early 2010.

World Bank VP for Latin America Pamela Cox, joined Microsoft VP Curt Kolcun, NASA CIO Linda Cureton, and Google's VP Vinton G. Cerf, offering remarks on June 4 at the U.S. State Department to commence the global hackathon.

From June 4-6, during the global hackathon, almost 500 software engineers from around the world, including Nairobi, Kenya; Sao Paolo, Brazil; Sydney, Australia; Santiago, Chile; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Porto Alegre, Brazil, volunteered their time and expertise to work on issues related to disaster reduction in a forty-eight hour marathon of “hacking for humanity.”

 "Random Hacks of Kindness goes to the heart of what we believe at Google,” said Vint Cerf. “That the creative and cooperative use of technology can help make the world a better place, collective intelligence is strength, and if you supply free food, developers will come." 

After a weekend of intense coding, lack of sleep throughout every global location, hackers submitted their codes to the RHoK judges who then judged along the lines of innovation and real world applicability.

  • In Jakarta, a mobile phone application was created that was capable of sending an SOS message and pinpointing the person’s GPS location for rescue teams with just one click of a button.

  • Nairobi’s first place hack, “Res-Q”, created a Person Finder technology, which was passed around the world from country to country being continuously worked on by different global teams throughout the weekend.

  • Sao Paolo created a simple application to tell local residents where your nearest shelters are in case of an emergency.

  • Santiago worked on a project called “The Credibility of the Human Sensor” to programmatically determine trustworthiness of crowdsourced data by developing an application based in Twitter’s model to collect early crisis alarms from different social sources and to allow user rated alerts to determine trustworthiness.

Disaster Risk Management at the World Bank

"NASA is proud to be supporting Random Hacks of Kindness and promote wider usage of our open data to solve the world’s greatest challenges," said NASA CIO Linda Cureton." 

The World Bank has been involved in post-disaster recovery and reconstruction for more than 25 years, with a trend toward increasing lending for risk reduction and mitigation, mainly by integrating risk reduction into its investment programs.

In the last four fiscal years alone, the Bank has approved US$9.2 billion for more than 215 disaster-related projects, including non-lending technical assistance.

The institution is increasingly embracing new ways of doing business in search for disaster solutions, opening up to external partnerships, innovation in technology – such as the RHoK, to meet the growing challenges in disaster response.

Example of World Bank Work on Disaster Risk Management from Latin America and the Caribbean and East Asia and the Pacific

"Microsoft is honored to support this global community of developers committed to making a difference," said Curt Kolcun, Vice President, Microsoft U.S. Public Sector. 

Increased population growth and urbanization, particularly in high-risk areas without adequate prevention planning measures, make Latin American and East Asian cities increasingly at risk of natural catastrophic events.

The World Bank teams in both regions have developed and put in place a strategy to reduce the impacts of natural events. The disaster risk management teams have identified a three-pronged approach to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters: (a) Risk identification involves identifying risk and vulnerabilities, (b) Risk reduction relates to urban and regional development and planning, and (c) Risk financing brings non-traditional partners into disaster risk management, such as the financial sector. In the recent past that strategy has been put to test in Haiti, Indonesia, Philippines and Chile.

Working With Partners on Disaster Risk Reduction

"Yahoo! is proud to support Random Hacks of Kindness -- supporting how technology can help give individuals the tools to change the world," said Senior Director of Yahoo! For Good, Meg Garlinghouse. 

The World Bank is managing the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) - a major global response of donors, emerging economies, developing countries, Africa, Caribbean, and the Pacific Group of States (ACP), European Commission, the United Nations, and the World Bank to assist developing countries to deal with the global challenge of disasters. GFDRR annually provides more than US$30 million in technical assistance to disaster-prone countries to build their national capacity for reducing and managing disaster risks as a core development agenda.

If you want to learn more about RHoK or even host a RHoK event in your country, visit:

Other Resources

•  Disaster Risk Management at the World Bank
  Latin America Region Disaster Risk Management team
  East Asia and Pacific Region Disaster Risk Management team
  World Bank Response to Haiti Earthquake
  Latin America: Getting Better At Disaster Prevention with High-Tech Support 

Related Websites 
  Latin America and Caribbean website on World Bank response
  World Bank Sustainable Development Portal  

Last updated: 2010-06-24

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