Oxfam launches VR film, trials 3D printing and sensor tech

Evelyn watches the Oxfam film, which she stars in, using a Samsung Gear VR headset.

International charity Oxfam is leveraging new technologies to spread the word about crises happening around the globe, as well as exploring the use of 3D printing, drones and internet of things sensors as new ways of delivering aid and solving problems in the developing world.

On Tuesday, Oxfam is set to launch a virtual reality film called Evelyn’s Story, allowing viewers to experience the arduous journey of an 11-year-old Kenyan girl searching for water in the drought-ridden Turkana county.

When Oxfam filmed the short film (which was made in conjunction with the Sydney-based production company Flimgraphics and Alt VFX), the young girl’s family could only get access to clean water for about two hours every eight days, so were often forced to risk diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera, using whatever they could find.

Oxfam Australia director of public engagement, Pam Anders, told The Australian Financial Review it was the first time it had used virtual reality, but if it goes well it will continue to use them to help show what it is trying to achieve.

“Virtual reality is something that’s become more accessible in the past 12 months in terms of people being able to access headsets off the shelf, so it was a great opportunity for us to look at because it gives the viewer an amazing opportunity to be virtually connected,” she said.

“It’s like you’re there. It’s very disorienting when you first put the headset on and you’re able to direct what you see. You can look beyond the subject to see what’s above or behind you. Many of my staff and myself were emotionally moved.”

Inspiring experience

Watching the film in virtual reality, the viewer feels like they’re in the bare, arid desert of northern Kenya desperately searching for water alongside Evelyn. Ms Anders hopes the immersive experience will inspire people to donate more money.

Besides virtual reality, Oxfam has also been utilising new technologies in Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Since the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the organisation has been trialling 3D printing of water pipes and fittings in partnership with the not-for-profit Field Ready and a local 3D printing company. 

“What we’ve found is it’s been a much quicker way to produce the spare parts. We want to keep doing this, but the challenge now is how to get the right materials locally, so it’s more sustainable and weather-proof, and how to keep the costs low, and where along the chain of vendors it’s best to introduce 3D printing. It’s going well so far, but there are still elements to resolve,” Ms Anders said.

In Sri Lanka, Oxfam has also been placing sensors in dams and water pipes to measure the amount of rainfall in real time. This is helping farmers to make insurance claims during floods. If rainfall hits a certain level in the dam, farmers in the region receive an SMS generated by the sensor.

“One of the problems this was trying to solve was that local insurance schemes were really difficult for farmers to access because they didn’t have evidence of the rainfall or flooding. Since we implemented these sensors there’s been an increase in payouts to farmers – last year there was over 110,000,” Ms Anders said.

Other charities adopting new tech

Oxfam’s use of cutting edge technologies is just one example of ways that not-for-profit and inter governmental organisations are using new-age tech to help tackle problems in developing nations and countries plagued by internal conflict.

In May the United Nation’s World Food Programme concluded a trial using the ethereum blockchain, giving Syrian refugees resources by giving them cryptocurrency-based vouchers to be redeemed in participating markets.

Oxfam’s 2014 Even it Up report found that seven out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater than it was 30 years ago. Oxfam has also found that over the last 25 years, the top 1 per cent has gained more income than the bottom 50 per cent put together.

World Vision has also been building up its technology capability and has partnered with US companies Fieldworker and Intermec to build the Last Mile Mobile Solution (LMMS), which helps the charity to register and verify aid beneficiaries, distribute food, prevent duplication errors and reduce inventory losses.

The LMMS devices work in remote locations without electricity or internet access, but let aid beneficiaries register and receive their own barcoded ID card.

The system has let World Vision deliver materials like food, tents, hygiene kits and mosquito nets in up to 50 per cent less time than through manual methods.

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