New research, led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), suggests messaging apps could play a vital role in humanitarian work in the future. The research carried out by the ICRC, The Engine Room and Block Party, says messaging apps have become so widespread that they deserve to be considered ‘strategically’, for use in humanitarian operations. The results of the research have been released in the report ‘Humanitarian Futures for Messaging Apps’, published today.

It’s estimated that more than 2.5 billion people around the world use messaging apps. That figure is expected to rise to 3.6 billion – half the world’s population – by 2018. In emergencies, such as natural disasters or armed conflicts, people are increasingly relying on these platforms to keep in touch with their loved ones or to remain informed about the situation.

“Messaging apps help humanitarian organizations gather information to better understand needs from hard-to-reach areas where it is often difficult to conduct face-to-face meetings,” said the ICRC’s director of communication and information management Charlotte Lindsey-Curtet. “Humanitarian organizations are currently experimenting with messaging apps for two main purposes: to communicate with people affected by crisis or conflict, and to coordinate tasks and actions internally.”

“In some situations, messaging apps have untapped potential to improve humanitarian operations,” said the lead researcher at The Engine Room and one of the main authors of the study, Tom Walker.

These new opportunities however pose new challenges. “There are a number of issues such as security, data protection and privacy which need to be seriously considered,” said the ICRC’s head of data protection, Massimo Marelli. “They can reproduce old inequalities and create new ones in the form of digital, age and gender divides.”

The report says humanitarian organizations need to better understand the opportunities and challenges of Messaging Apps, and that strategies and standards need to be established to determine where Messaging Apps might be most appropriate and effective.

The report was prepared with support from an advisory group that included the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the World Food Programme.
To download the full report, please see here: https://shop.icrc.org/messagingapps