IRC Designs Tracking System for Humanitarian Aid
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has developed a package tracking system called Commodity Tracking System, or CTS for short, that will allow them to track their humanitarian aid packages as they are delivered across Syria. And they are giving it away for free.
Syria has been in the midst of a civil war for five years. Over half of the people living in the country have been uprooted from their homes and face harsh conditions. More than 4 million refugees have fled to Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. For years the IRC has been offering support to the country, giving food and medical supplies where it can, though they can’t deliver the goods themselves. IRC’s staff and volunteers are not allowed to enter Syria, and therefore cannot ensure the safe delivery of their cargo. Instead, local Syrian organizations meet the IRC at the border and deliver them to waiting hospitals and refugee camps.
IRC has long had the need to track their packages as the leave the border and travel into the country, but never had a way to do so. So they built their own. The developed a remote verification and monitoring system called the Commodity Tracking System to ensure each package reaches it’s destination. The system tracks the packages movements and reports back on their statuses. They have now open sourced the system, letting any humanitarian organization use it free of charge. They also welcome improvements to the software. The company was able to create the software via grants from both the U.S. and U.K governments along with help from Stichting Vluchteling, a Dutch humanitarian aid group.
The system is made of two parts; an Android app and server-side package tracking system. Each package going into the country receives it’s own unique QR code that reflects a list of what supplies are included within the package. An online server provides a database lookup of all the different codes and what they entail. Upon crossing the border, the group picking up the package scans the QR code with a Android device capable of GPS tracking, which relays its position, encrypted for safety, back to the CTS server. Because the system runs of Wi-Fi, volunteers don’t have to use mobile data plans and their devices don’t require SIM cards, which could be used by the government to track their location. Later, email or Skype can confirm delivery.
IRC’s regional coordinator for Syria response, Jake Watson, knows that this technology isn’t anything new – UPS, FedEx and other organizations have been doing it for years, but it does help to solve a problem for the IRC: accountability. Watson knows that if their package gets delivered to the wrong partner group, they will have a record of that. Sometime supplies are seized by warlords or corrupt officials in the government, and the CTS system will be able to keep their donors in the loop about where exactly their contributions went. Visibly seeing their food and medicines reach their destinations intact will provide a feeling of peace knowing that at least that one package will provide a little relief for a handful of families in a war-torn country.