How Google and GiveDirectly Use AI Maps to Bring Money to Hurric

After a disaster like Hurricane Ian, it can take days or even weeks for people to get help — and when it arrives, usually in the form of in-kind donations, from clothes to food, that may not be what anyone needs at the moment. The non-profit organization GiveDirectly takes a different approach in Florida and Puerto Rico and sends .Directly 700 dollars in cash For low-income hurricane survivors.

“In our experience, very good infrastructure around disaster relief has resulted in people getting a lot of things they don’t actually need in the aftermath of a storm,” Sarah Moran, US country director, tells GiveDirectly. People will send blankets, water bottles, medicine, and candy bars. And what we’ve heard loud and clear from people in post-disaster recovery is that they need to be able to decide how to recover themselves. Cash is a more effective way to ensure that we meet the needs of people who have gone through the storm.”

That’s not to say that other donations aren’t helpful either – bottled water is essential when clean drinking water isn’t available, and if stores are closed or stock is out of stock, a gift of diapers may be more useful than money to buy them. But it’s also important to give people the option to pay for what they know they need most, whether that’s renting a car to go to work or renting a car.

The nonprofit, which pioneered direct cash payments to people living in poverty in Africa, provided similar aid after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria. Using a tool developed by partners at Google.org — which they first used in 2019, after Hurricane Dorian — they found the people most in need by mapping how the damage from the storm intersects with poverty in the community. (Google.org also donated $3 million to support GiveDirectly’s work in Florida and Puerto Rico.)

“What we can do next is target the people we want to push at the census block level, and the great thing about that is that we can do that within a day of receiving the satellite imagery,” she says. “Whereas getting there on the ground, actually driving and looking at people’s homes and trying to decide who was affected, is much more difficult and much less effective. You might miss an entire neighborhood, if you were trying to do it manually.”

Using the Providers app, which millions of Americans use to administer SNAP benefits to purchase food, GiveDirectly sends a notification to people in the hardest hit areas, letting them know they may be eligible. Within seconds, they can complete the order, and the funds can appear in their account within 24 to 48 hours.

Last week, the nonprofit began making its first payments in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. It wasn’t as devastating as Ian, but since the island had yet to recover from Hurricane Maria five years ago, they knew more support was needed. The first payments will begin in Florida Thursday, and the nonprofit will analyze the program to see if more payments are needed in the future.

Thanks in part to GiveDirectly’s previous work, other organizations have also begun using cash transfers — including FEMA, which also plans to give money to people affected by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico. But GiveDirectly believes it can reach more people faster.

She says equitable disaster relief is critical. “Storms like this are devastating for everyone. But there is also data showing that big storms exacerbate wealth inequality and exacerbate and widen the racial wealth gap. So recovery after a storm is a critical time to make sure the most vulnerable get the support they need to rebuild. That is why we are doing this work.”

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