PhD candidate Ning Wang at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME), University of Zurich recently published an articles in the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine entitled: “We Live on Hope…”: Ethical Considerations of Humanitarian Use of Drones in Post-Disaster Nepal. This work results from a three-week field study in rural Nepal, where local population’s livelihood was affected by the 2015 earthquake, and where drones were used in assisting disaster relief work. The article focuses on the ethical considerations associated with the use of technology for humanitarian purposes, and raises awareness for the need of critical analysis in the deployment of technology in the aid sector.
The noticeable turn to technology in humanitarian action raises issues related to humanitarianism, sovereignty, as well as equality and access for at-risk populations in disaster zones or remote areas lacking sufficient healthcare services. On a technical level, practical challenges include heightened risks of data safety and security, and the potential malicious use of technology. On a societal level, humanitarian innovation may disrupt relations between different stakeholders, may widen inequality between those with access and those without, and may threaten privacy, disproportionately affecting the vulnerable population. Drawing on the empirical findings of a case study of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, this paper presents an in-depth normative analysis to identify contextualised ethical considerations, and illuminate the wider debate about how technological innovation in the aid sector should be operationalised. In conclusion, on the normative level, a prudent attitude in adopting novel technology in the aid sector is required; while on the operational level, proposals for actionable ethical standards to guide and safeguard sector-wide innovation practices are needed.
Humanitarian technology; community consent; technology assessment; data safety and security; regulation deficit; stakeholder accountability