Working Together to Open Up Disaster Relief

Molly Byrnes, Account Director
#API | Posted

Open source.

Let’s break that down. Open, as in not closed, unfettered, endless, expansive and limitless. Source, as in where it all starts, core, center, start, canonical standard of central unity. Open source represents the freedom to study, to learn, to adapt, to collaborate, and to contribute back, no matter who you are or where you are from.

For me and my colleagues at Phase2, it would be safe to say that “openness” is less a business practice than an overarching philosophy that influences our vision of how technology could change the world. Flowers on the tree of the future include: open data, micro-lending, cooperatives, copylefting, shared and transparent content. Buds on the tree might include higher global consciousness and unity through free access to information.

Catastrophic events like the Haitian earthquake or Hurricane Sandy bring us all back to nature for a moment.  Our planet's human history is marked by all kinds of natural and man-made disasters. The more we understand what has happened in the past and how humanity has reacted, the more we can embrace, plan and prepare for our global future  - whatever that may be.


Enter ReliefWeb, a Phase2 partner and the leading source for reliable and timely humanitarian information on global crises for nearly two decades. Yesterday ReliefWeb, with the assistance of Phase2 and Development Seed, released an open data API which will provide access to over 500,000 pieces of content on humanitarian events on our planet. This versatile API is now available through ReliefWeb’s developer portal, empowering humanitarian organizations and developers to take advantage of the UN’s sophisticated information delivery systems.

The ReliefWeb team have been working tirelessly to further the UN’s mission of fostering global goodwill and collaboration. Since 1996, ReliefWeb has curated content and worked to develop a technical solution which would ensure the availability of that content for the global humanitarian community. What makes ReliefWeb’s API unique is the massive scope and expert analysis of the information it contains, as well as the potential to connect so many like-minded, purpose-driven actors.

Additionally, Phase2 ensured that the API was a generically usable product in its own right by streamlining the developer experience, incorporating a fault-tolerant infrastructure, automating testing and deployment, and providing specific and effective documentation.


Sound like a tool that could benefit your digital disaster-relief venture? Visit the developer portal to get started, browse the Swagger documentation, or read up on Phase2's case study. If you’re at NYCCamp this week, don’t miss members of the ReliefWeb and Phase2 teams give you the inside scoop on developing the API and their vision for its uses.

In the end, remember that the API’s impact will ultimately come from you, the community. In moments of devastating disaster, every piece of data can help save more lives and rebuild cities. Sometimes we have to understand the context of the past to jump into our digital future - easily accessible historical humanitarian data is just the beginning.

Molly Byrnes

Account Director