12 new solutions transforming humanitarian response for people affected by war


Categories: Innovation

From  monitoring cold-chain of COVID-19 vaccines to addressing PTSD among school children, and locally producing prosthetics for civilians, these innovations are transforming humanitarian response for the hardest-to-reach people in conflict


What if children suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Yemen had access to the essential mental health resources they need? What if we could monitor the cold-chain storage of COVID-19 vaccines, ensuring they reach communities affected by conflict? What if civilians living with disabilities had access to locally produced, affordable prosthetics? What if the energy needs of entire communities could be met, using only renewable energy?


Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge,  funded jointly by The U.S. Agency for International Development, the UK Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office, the Government of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Global Affairs Canada, has supported innovators working to make these ‘what ifs’ a reality.


Photo: Hand in Hand for Development Aid

The Humanitarian Grand Challenge supports innovations that save and improve the lives of the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach people impacted by humanitarian crises caused by conflict.

This third round of innovators will join the existing Humanitarian Grand Challenge community, for a total of 66 innovator teams who are implementing in 23 of the world’s most challenging humanitarian contexts.

Meet the teams working to implement ground-breaking solutions around the following humanitarian priorities: energy, life-saving information, and health.


Proof of Concept Innovations


Vitale Energie: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has over 50% of Africa’s water reserves, yet despite this tremendous potential, 33 million people in the DRC lack access to clean quality water. Despite sustained efforts, only 52% of the population has access to an improved water source and only 29% of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities. The lack of readily available clean water in the DRC leaves millions without adequate sanitation and hygiene, vulnerable to water-borne diseases, and at risk of malnutrition.

To address the challenges of lack of clean water, Provide Hope in Action’s Vitale Energie project will create strong and symbiotic partnerships to support equitable and accessible models to increasing access to clean water and electricity, using renewable energy. They propose applying Consumer Stock Ownership Plans (CPSOs) to renewable energy projects in small villages hosting refugees and internally-displaced people in the DRC. Working in the Rwanguba community in the DRC, Vital Energie is engaging with community leaders and members to understand the priorities and needs within the nexus to improve access and services related to energy, water, sanitation and hygiene, and food security.  This bottom-up approach differs from the top-down approaches seen in many energy initiatives.


Village Help for South Sudan: Today, only about 1 percent of South Sudan’s 11 million people can access the electric grid, according to the state-run utility. Many people use rooftop solar arrays or noisy, polluting diesel generators to keep the lights on; still many more are left in the dark.

Where access to electricity is limited, Village Help for South Sudan is implementing an innovative project that leverages stand-alone solar and storage microgrids to deploy electric pressure cookers, electric induction stoves, and a general 30W outlet for lighting and phone charging in rural South Sudan.

Smart meters and participant energy diaries will support in-depth monitoring and analysis of the benefits of electric cooking from customer costs to energy consumption and cooking burden. The deployments will also be coupled with robust community engagement, technical demonstrations and training, co-development of South Sudanese recipes adapted for electric cooking, and surveys to help identify key barriers and opportunities. Workforce development for the project shall serve as an onramp for female technicians in the solar sector. Overall the project will deploy electric cooking solutions for 26 households in the town of Wanyjok, South Sudan, to prove out specific business models for integrating electric cooking into the offerings of renewable energy providers.


SunGate Solar: SunGate Solar is pioneering the deployment of solar minigrids in South Sudan, a solution that will provide reliable 24-hour AC power to off-grid communities. A minigrid is a localized power generation and distribution network, powered by solar PV panels with battery and diesel generator backup, which supplies power to customers along the overhead distribution grid. A minigrid is sized to meet the unique layout and characteristics of the community, supplying high-quality electricity to customers of varying energy needs, such as homes, businesses, water pumps, and hospitals or healthcare centres.

Further, a minigrid can be expanded modularly over time to meet growth in electricity load or additional customers as the community grows. Sun Gate’s minigrid service would also enable access to additional means of electricity usage for appliances and equipment. With support from the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, Sun Gate seeks to prove the viability of minigrids in South Sudan as a cost-effective and agile solution for meeting the energy needs of the country.


Photo Credit: SunGate Solar


Life Saving Information

Youth Empowerment and Development Aid: Lack of accurate information is a key challenge in properly responding to humanitarian needs. In South Sudan, over 6.6. million people are in need of humanitarian assistance yet they are often unreachable as a result of conflict and threat of attacks.

To better reach and connect people in displacement – including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and spontaneous returnees – with humanitarian organizations and donors, the Youth Empowerment and Development Aid (YEDA) will establish a community network of individuals, train them and equip them with portable solar panels, phones and radios to collect and deliver information to vulnerable internally displaced persons and returnees in hard-to-reach areas in the Mundri East and Mundri West Counties in South Sudan.

In each key location identified, a Village Representation Committee (VRC) will build on existing infrastructures and community communication mechanisms to act as a bridge between the people in need and the humanitarian actors, using two-way communications to link people and services, plan a better response and provide potential donors with up-to-date information to re-prioritize underserved areas of South Sudan for resource allocation.

The technological innovation of community-centric data collection through mobile phones and the use of portable solar panels to charge their phones and radios will allow continuous exchange of up-to-date, life-saving information between internally displaced persons and humanitarian aid workers.


Photo: Youth Empowerment & Development Aid


Health Supplies & Services

Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation: Conflict leads to increased stress and health problems. Airstrikes, fighting and a blockade on major ports and airports have triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with the world’s largest food security emergency, epidemics of waterborne diseases such as cholera, and ongoing violence. The dire situation has left an estimated 79% of children in Yemen experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In partnership with Yemeni Universities and mental health experts, the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation will upgrade the skills and knowledge of school counsellors to address the needs of middle and high school students with PTSD and related mental health issues. Working in 4 schools in Sana’a, the program will focus on training and mentoring.

The innovative content of the program will help support Yemeni youth to develop peer-oriented social media messages and campaigns to raise awareness about mental health services and destigmatize care-seeking. The program will also conduct ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure progress and outcomes.


Photo: Yemen Relief & Reconstruction Foundation


MSI Reproductive Choices: MSI Yemen (MSIY) has been tasked by the authorities in the South of Yemen to facilitate the roll out of the recently revised Post Miscarriage Care (PAC) guidelines. These new guidelines emphasize the use of manual vacuum aspiration (MVA)  as the preferred method of PAC provision and ensure the highest clinical quality standards can be met. Yemeni healthcare workers are struggling with burnout under difficult operating conditions amid the conflict and severely underfunded health system.

This innovation provides an opportunity for MSIY to operationalise the new guidelines using a new training model: offering specialised mental health support from local partner Family Counselling & Development Foundation (FCDF) and tailored values clarification and attitude transformation (VCAT) training, alongside MSIY’s clinical training on MVA technique, infection prevention, and medical emergency management to 70 public and 20 private PAC providers in southern Yemen. The combined training will take place over ten days, followed by up to 12 individual counselling sessions and on-going quality assurance and supervision, aiming to result in providers being more confident and better equipped to provide PAC services.


Hala Systems Inc.: Excessive heat or cold exposure can damage vaccines. Cold chain is an essential process used to maintain optimal conditions during the transport, storage, and handling of vaccines, starting at the manufacturer and ending with the administration of the vaccine. With slowed supply chains, border closures, and threats of violence, it is often challenging to monitor and ensure vaccines are reaching those in remote and conflict-affected areas.

Hala intends to develop an affordable solution that helps automate the laborious data tracking methods used in cold chain monitoring by replacing them with a single wireless sensor paired with web applications. Data collected can warn field teams of a spoiled shipment in real-time; and can provide valuable insight into the health of cold chain operations. The bluetooth-enabled temperature sensor will be a custom hardware device slightly larger than a euro coin, fitting easily in compact vaccine carriers. Temperature measurements will be traceable by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST-traceable), and seek to provide quality assurance for proper packing, storing, and transport of vaccines. An Android app will collect data from the sensors, report data to the cloud, and locally alert users of shipment spoilage. The web interface will provide a macro view of the health of the cold chain, and report problems with individual shipments. With support from the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, Hala aims to deliver 50% reduction in device costs and 30% reduction in labor costs compared to current methods.


Hand in Hand for Aid and Development: Syria’s ongoing conflict has resulted in an overburdened healthcare system, unable to adequately provide those with physical and mental impairments with the support they need. To meet these needs, Hand in Hand for Aid and Development (HiHFAD)’s comprehensive physical and mental program will support persons with impairments by focusing on physical and mental rehabilitation.

Where meeting the prosthetic needs of civilians is complicated by border closures and disrupted supply chains from Turkey, in late 2019, HiHFAD established a Prosthetic and Orthotic Centre in Al Bab City, Syria. The Centre has the human resources, equipment, and materials to locally manufacture essential prosthetics and orthotics needed by civilians. Their local staff is now able to meet the needs of Syrians in a cheaper, faster and more practical way.


Photo: Hand in Hand for Aid & Development


The MENTOR Initiative: Dengue, a mosquito-borne viral infection, is a leading cause of serious illness in Yemen. Without proper management by medical professionals, it can develop into a potentially lethal complication – severe dengue.

To address and control dengue outbreaks in Yemen, the MENTOR Initiative will conduct a pilot study to examine the effectiveness of two novel vector control products, the Sumilarv 2MR and Envelope, in reducing the infections within households caused by Aedes mosquitos.

Sumilarv 2MR is a small plastic disc that, when placed in water, slowly releases pyriproxyfen, a larvicide, over 6-9 months. Envelope, an A4 size piece of plastic embedded with transfluthrin, a fast-acting insecticide, can be placed inside the home and repels insects for up to one month. Because Aedes mosquitoes preferentially breed in man-made water tanks and generally stay near households with no long-range flights, these products can target Aedes mosquitoes at different stages of the life cycle and significantly reduce exposure of infective bites, ultimately reducing and controlling dengue outbreaks in affected areas of Yemen.


Bureau Diocésain des Œuvres Médicales: In areas affected by conflict, health systems are often overwhelmed and under resourced. Critical care medicine is often neglected in acute settings where resource limitations leave healthcare workers and patients without the essential medicines and pharmaceutical grade serums needed to treat patients.

To address this challenge, Bureau Diocésain des Œuvres Médicales will develop a micro-factory, using their energy grid-independent water purification system. The system is able to produce pharmaceutical grade intravenous (P-IV) serums, including, but not limited to, pharmaceutical water, normal saline, and oral rehydration solution. The system will involve a water sterilization system combined with a mixing ad packaging system for pharmaceutical grade intravenous serums and oral rehydration solutions.

This system builds on their existing water purification technology which uses environmental heat to drive the distillation of local water resources. This water is UV sterilized after distillation. The water is then provided to a mixing system that combines sterile pharmaceutical grade salt, sugar, or other compounds to create medical grade serum. The serum is then packaged in medical grade sterile bags which can be stored at room temperature and can be stably transported to local medical centers after quality and safety controls.


Transition to Scale Innovations

Cold Hubs: addresses the problem of food-waste in remote areas of Nigeria. As a result of lack of reliable cold storage, the absence of suitable on-farm and in-market cold storage and unreliable electricity supply at key points within the food supply chain, food often goes to waste as it spoils.

ColdHubs tackles the inadequacy of cooling systems for the storage of perishable food in farms and marketplaces by providing solar-powered walk-in cold rooms and ice block makers, within the reach of farmers, food supply chain actors, and other users providing much needed post-harvest infrastructure, which improves returns to producers and increases the net availability of high-quality food commodities for consumption. In developing countries, 45% of food spoils are mainly due to lack of cold storage and 470 million small farmers lose 25% of their annual income. ColdHubs will bring their innovative solution to provide adequate food-storage for people in displacement camps in Nigeria.


Photo: Cold Hubs

SecDev Foundation & SecDev Group: The front lines of armed conflicts are increasingly digital, putting civilians and first responders at risk. The Digital Humanitarian Response Mechanism (DHRM) is designed to mitigate digital harms and build community resilience in one of the world’s most extreme crises, Yemen. It consolidates over a decade of digital humanitarian and development best practice. The DHRM will build a playbook to detect, deter and disrupt digital harms while strengthening long-term community resilience. At the global level, the DHRM team will work with leading social media and technology platforms to monitor and reduce online digital harms such as misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and extremism. At the local level, civil society and youth leaders will co-create sustainable approaches to reduce and prevent the harmful effects of mis/disinformation within communities. The DHRM combines agile and experienced nonprofit digital responders with world-class commercial digital overwatch capabilities.



About Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge

Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge is a partnership of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.K Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and Global Affairs Canada, with support from Grand Challenges Canada. Partners have contributed USD$32.5 million for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, which was launched in 2018 to enable local organizations, humanitarian agencies, and the private sector to work alongside affected communities to respond more nimbly to complex emergencies, address the unprecedented magnitude of suffering around the world, and empower people to create better lives for themselves.

Find out more: HumanitarianGrandChallenge.org. Subscribe to our e-newsletter. Follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.



  • Zeba Tasci