Improving responses to humanitarian crises

Data science can contribute towards becoming better prepared for humanitarian crises and improving relief or developmental aid operations. This is what researchers from HEC Montréal have demonstrated by creating tools that provide solutions to the challenges posed by recent catastrophes. In the longer term, their work should lead to the development and implementation of a crisis management system that combines data analysis, optimization and econometrics.


Under the direction of Marie-Ève Rancourt, researchers are working to develop innovative tools that provide specific solutions to complex optimization problems. One of these tools pertains to the restoration of water supply systems in the wake of an earthquake (in Nepal), and the other one concerns the management of aid programs to increase food security (in East Africa).


  • In Nepal: Creation of an optimization tool to restore water supply systems. The tool analyzes data provided by the Red Cross and satellite imagery, and helps reduce costs as well as travel distances for users.
  • In East Africa: Collection of data on the challenges faced in the provision of food aid, household food consumption and transportation contracts. An analysis of these data paves the way for the creation of econometric models. These models are used to predict demand and transportation costs, taking into consideration the impact of price changes on the local markets. By combining them with optimization models, we can reduce logistics costs and increase service levels.


The ambition of the researchers is not limited to these two projects, which are considered to be proofs of concept that can be applied to sudden or slow-onset disaster situations. Their goal is to design and implement an integrated crisis management system that combines data analysis and optimization, in order to effectively plan and monitor humanitarian operations.


Marie-Ève Rancourt

“A culture that values data science needs to be developed in the humanitarian sector. In case of a disaster, it is necessary to act quickly, and decisions cannot always be based on complex analytical methods. But as far as planning is concerned, the use of data will be beneficial to everyone.”
Marie-Ève Rancourt, Associate Professor, Department of Logistics and Operations Management, Principal researcher


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