Virtual Aid to Nepal

Using Artificial Intelligence in Disaster Relief

Niraj Ranjitkar, 10, walks along the debris of collapsed houses as he heads towards his school, a month after the April 25 earthquake, in Bhaktapur, Nepal, May 31, 2015. Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

At last count, the earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 and the large aftershock that followed three weeks later had claimed more than 8,500 lives, making it the largest disaster in the country’s history. It is also a watershed in another way. It was the first time artificial intelligence was used so extensively in relief efforts to tackle the overwhelming amount of information generated by mobile phones, satellites, and social media, to name just a few, to help aid workers locate victims, identify relief needs, and help aid workers navigate dangerous terrain.

One of the most crucial first steps in disaster relief is getting a picture of what the new terrain looks like—what roads are blocked and what buildings have crumbled. Shortly after the quake, the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitariaon Affairs activated the Digital Humanitarian Network to make sense of the big data generated by the disaster.

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