International Rescue Committee Open Sources First Of Its Kind Humanitarian Digital Tool

Press Release | International Rescue Committee | August 5, 2015

Commodity Tracking System (CTS) allows individuals and organizations to track essential commodities such as medical supplies in high-risk, destabilized areas

New York,  August 5, 2015--The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a leading crisis-focused humanitarian relief and resettlement organization, is open sourcing its Commodity Tracking System (CTS) technology. A first of its kind humanitarian digital tool designed to work in crisis locations, CTS is used to track essential, life-saving commodities such as medical supplies shipped into Syria.

By open sourcing CTS, which was made possible by generous grants from the UK and US governments and Stichting Vluchteling, and making it available to all for free, the IRC is giving individuals and other organizations the opportunity to scale this technology and use it in other fragile and destabilized areas of the world.

In its fifth year, the war in Syria has killed more than 220,000 people and uprooted nearly half the country’s population. Since 2012, the CTS has allowed the IRC to track the movement of all humanitarian supplies going into Syria. This allows the IRC to know when a shipment has reached its intended recipient while promoting accountability, transparency and improved reporting to donors.

“The IRC is proud to be a leader in the use of technology as it continues to play a transformative role in the humanitarian sector,” said Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director for IRC’s Syria response. “Our local partners continue to show bravery and commitment in making sure humanitarian aid reaches the most vulnerable as they work in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances inside Syria."

The IRC like other INGOs cannot deliver medical aid and other supplies such as shelter materials or heating supplies inside Syria for security concerns, so it works with local civil society groups inside Syria that pick up IRC’s shipments at border points from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan and they deliver them to intended locations inside Syria.

The CTS allows the IRC to track the movement of all humanitarian supplies from dispatch to destinations, allowing IRC to determine if the intended packages arrived to its intended locations.

Every IRC package going into Syria is tagged with a QR code. Using GPS-enabled smart phones with dedicated software the civil society groups that IRC works with scan these shipments as they are crossing the borders to various distribution points. The data is automatically encrypted and securely uploaded to the IRC’s server.

The QR code system allows for quick and easy tracking of the shipment while en route. Using CTS has allowed the IRC to know with certainty where our materials are going and when they will arrive in ways we never knew before. CTS tracks with accuracy the journey of our goods taken from Jordan to their end point inside Syria.

Intended recipients confirm receipt of the shipments via email or Skype providing additional levels of assurance to the tracking system.

Individuals and organizations can access the technology and source code here.


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