International Rescue Committee makes aid tracking tool open sourced

(Credit: IRC)

An aid group is sharing the tool it uses to track aid shipments in Syria with everyone. The International Rescue Committee announced that its Commodity Tracking System is open sourced. Many aid groups use tracking systems to see what is going where, but this is the first time that one such program is available for anyone who wants it for free.

The Android-based system uses an app and QR codes to track aid supplies as they make their way through Syria and its neighboring countries. Users are given the same kind of tracking feedback that a person might get about something ordered from Amazon or sent through UPS. With the technology and source code available, users only need GPS-enabled cell phones to get started.

It allows the International Rescue Committee to know whether something arrived in the right place or how close it is to reaching its destination.

The ongoing civil war in Syria forced more than 4 million people to leave the country and another 8 million to flee their homes. With limited resources and not enough money to adequately respond, aid groups and U.N. organizations are struggling to keep up. A simplified system to ensure that medical supplies, water, food and other aid reach people in need is vital to having the greatest impact possible.

It is a crucial tool for the International Rescue Committee because it cannot deliver aid in Syria due to security threats. To get supplies into Syria, the group must work with local partners who carry out the deliveries and distribute the supplies. Tracking the movement of aid through Syria helps them ensure it is getting where it belongs.

The Commodity Tracking System was developed in 2012 through the support of grants by the United States, United Kingdom and the Dutch emergency aid group Stichting Vluchteling (Netherlands Refugee Foundation). Since then, the system has tracked all aid supplies entering Syria.

“This allows the IRC to know when a shipment has reached its intended recipient while promoting accountability, transparency and improved reporting to donors,” they explain.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.

  • Rather than “open sourcing” this tool — which basically means turning over any responsibility for improving and maintaining it to “the community” — it would be better to see IRC make a commitment to run it on their servers and provide the *working tool* (rather than just the blueprints in the form of source code) to the community.

    If they did so, anyone would be able to start using it immediately, with little or no technical assistance (like Facebook or Gmail).

    By only sharing the code/blueprints, it means that only those who can afford programmers and technical personnel will be able to use this software.