Smartphones and shovels: How the technology is transforming UNDP’s emergency employment system

Jun 24, 2015

Civil engineers’ tools of trade usually include measuring tapes, calipers, levels and hardhats, and now smartphones.

In its earthquake response, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has partnered with tech giant, Microsoft to develop and rollout a real-time mobile application for engineers to use in UNDP’s debris management and livelihoods work.

The online portal helps UNDP maintain transparency and accountability in the immediate and longer-term earthquake recovery programming.

“This is the first time we’ve used this technology for work like this in Nepal and we plan to upscale it further.  We’re not only able to get real-time updates on what’s happening in the field, it also  helps us to optimize management of our early recovery programme,” says Renaud Meyer, UNDP Nepal’s Country Director.

In order to keep real time tabs on the work being done at the ground level and to ensure greater transparency of its work, UNDP turned to a team of innovators working with Microsoft Innovations Center in Nepal for a solution. Initially the plan was to have engineers carry laptop, a GPS device, camera and an internet dongle. This would have been costly and not practical considering the rough and remote terrain. Ultimately the fix came in the form of a smartphone app.

“Microsoft innovations Center Nepal is really glad to be partnering with UNDP in ensuring that innovative technology is being used in the humanitarian disaster response in this debris management project where a phone app is being used,” says Allen Tuladhar, Director of Microsoft Innovations Center Nepal.  

The platform is in use in one of UNDP’s target areas.

In the hilltop village of Kunchok, Badal Regmi scans a card into his smartphone. The civil engineer from Kathmandu is one of 84 UN Volunteers in the field helping to assess and safely demolish destroyed and damaged houses.

The card he swipes belongs to one of 770 community members enrolled in the cash-for-work initiative that gives much needed income to those affected by the disaster to clear their communities.

“This is great. It’s efficient and it saves time for us,” Regmi says. “We can collect the data offline and upload it when we have signal.”

The data is uploaded to a central digital portal where it can be accessed by the entire UNDP team in real time. Without this app, the engineers would be collecting data on paper running the risk of making mistakes or losing details and time.

Not only is the app recording assessment data on damaged houses, but it is providing a reliable platform to track workers and the days they work, and pay them the right amount on time. Each worker was given a card with a specific barcode. This card logs their personal information and is scanned each day by the engineers. When it comes to pay time, their information will be accessible and verifiable.

“Workers are excited by the system. The card system is working. It’s reassuring for them. They know it works,” Regmi says.

The app has five services:

  • Damage Assessment: Data entry of all the assessment made in paperless manner
  • Worker Registration: Register the workers working for debris management
  • Worker Attendance: Track the attendance of the workers
  • Progress Report: Prepare analytical data from the collected data
  • Payroll: Allocate payment to the workers according to the attendance data
  • Community Survey: Create survey forms and take surveys on different pressing issues

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