QR Codes on Australian Aid Relief Supplies. (Skye Out/ Humanitarian Logistics Capability).
In the wake of a humanitarian crisis, relief kits from Australia have typically come with Product Cards – laminated, English-language explanations of the contents and how to use them. While well-intentioned, humanitarian logisticians have learned from experience that these cards are both easy to lose and in the worst cases, inaccessible to the people who need them.
Now, the Australian Government is piloting an alternative: QR Codes.
Trialling Quick Response (QR) Technology on Australian Humanitarian Supplies
The use of QR Codes on humanitarian emergency relief supplies can guide and support local partners to effectively distribute those supplies to communities who need them the most. QR Codes also allow people affected by crisis to access information about the supplies they receive.
The Australian Government, through the Humanitarian Logistics Capability investment (implemented by Palladium), has kicked off a trial to incorporate QR Codes on its pre-positioned humanitarian emergency relief supplies. As part of the replenishment of the Laos National Disaster Management stockpile, QR Codes have been put on new Hygiene and Kitchen Kits (collections of items that households can use to keep clean and prepare meals).
The information contained within the QR Code, such as the contents of each kit, has been translated to the local language, Laotian, by the locally engaged staff working at the Australian Embassy in Laos. This helps the Laotian warehouse staff and the eventual recipients to better understand the contents of the kits and how they can be best used.
Traditionally known as ‘quick-response codes’, QR Codes are a two-dimensional matrix barcode invented in 1994 by a Japanese company to label car parts. Their usage, however, has grown significantly since the global pandemic – now commonly being used in everything from restaurants for menus and ordering, to advertising in global marketing campaigns. Simply snap a photo of the code with a smartphone and users are automatically taken to the information, making it a cheap, fast, and reliable way to share a lot of information quickly.
Around the world, countries affected by crisis receive humanitarian supplies that may have limited information about their use. QR Codes on Australian humanitarian supplies will bridge that information gap.
Palladium Humanitarian Logistician Shaun Thomas came up with the idea after multiple humanitarian deployments across Asia and the Pacific region.
“The most common question I’m asked when delivering supplies is: ‘What is this?’ There’s often a barrier to fully understanding the contents of the kits we provided,” says Thomas.
Bridging the Information Gap
Of course, the Humanitarian Logistics Capability team has always provided essential information about the supplies they send in a crisis response using Product Cards. But Penelope Holder, the Humanitarian Logistics Capability’s Gender Equality, Disability, and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) Advisor believes the QR Code is a step forward to ensure information doesn’t get lost.
“It also has the potential for information about our humanitarian supplies to have a broader reach,” she says. “No matter how supplies move from one person to the next, anybody with a smartphone can just scan the code. It’s an inclusive-for-all approach.”
Holder acknowledges that QR code technology has its limitations, particularly for communities that don’t have a smartphone or a reliable Internet connection. However, in combination with other information-sharing approaches, the QR codes can mean targeted, relevant, and accessible communications.
“The concept in its raw form is great and provides people with a wealth of information,” adds Thomas. “There’s a lot more we can do to improve the information that is shared, making it easier to understand. But wherever these kits go, people always have access to the information and what can be obtained through these QR Codes.” Additional information, such as safety and instructional manuals, are also being considered by Thomas and the team, particularly when it comes to more challenging humanitarian supplies and kits.
Supporting Localised Humanitarian Responses
For Humanitarian Logistician Skye Out, the power of language and inclusive communications can support local authorities to make well-informed decisions about the distribution of humanitarian supplies in the event of a sudden onset crisis.
“It’s to everyone’s advantage to provide this type of information clearly and succinctly in the country context,” she says. “It just shows we’ve done our best to think about the people affected by crisis, what they need, and how they will be receiving these products.”
The success of this pilot will see the Humanitarian Logistics Capability continue to explore different tools and ways of workings to provide inclusive communications in a crisis response across different countries, cultures, and contexts.
“It’s truly up to us and those that travel in country to do that research, to be mindful of different systems, different structures, and how we can better work within that,” says Out. “We’re not there to change how people do things. It’s about providing the right tools to do what they want to do, in the way they want to do it. It’s important to be mindful of that.”
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