Its mandate is to “[s]trengthen the response capacity of the international humanitarian community through the timely dissemination of reliable information” (Helga Leifsdottir: ReliefWeb – a tool for knowledge sharing, 28 February 2008, published on USAID website, http://www.usaid.gov/about_usaid/acvfa/022808_reliefweb.pdf, accessed on 5 June 2008).
“ReliefWeb was launched in October 1996 and is administered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). [… T]he UN General Assembly endorsed the creation of ReliefWeb and encouraged humanitarian information exchange through ReliefWeb by all governments, relief agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Resolution 51/194 on 10 February 1997.”
ReliefWeb states that it provides “timely, reliable and relevant information as events unfold, while emphasizing the coverage of ‘forgotten emergencies’ at the same time”. It posts information in the form of emergency updates (including documents such as analyses, assessments, feature stories, news reports, situation reports and field reports) and maps on its website. Additionally, information is conveyed to numerous subscribers through its e-mail subscription services.
ReliefWeb also provides “various resource sections specifically targeted to relief professionals”: An Appeals and Funding section provides “appeals for complex emergencies and natural disasters and financial tracking” of humanitarian aid. The Policies and Issues section includes an ”[o]n-line library of reference materials covering humanitarian policies and issues of global nature”. The Professional Resources section features “information of practical use for relief professionals” such as a thematic listing of web links called “communities of practice” and a directory of information providers (sources) to ReliefWeb (ReliefWeb Website, http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/hlp.nsf/db900ByKey/AboutReliefWeb?OpenDocument, accessed on 5 June 2008).
ReliefWeb’s aim of comprehensive coverage of events would, “in many cases, act[…] as an effective alert for humanitarians” (see Diva International: "ReliefWeb" Interview with Sharon Rusu, Acting Coordinator, Diva International 2007, Issue N1, http://www.divainternational.ch/spip.php?article150, accessed on 5 June 2008).
Donors include “the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, European Commission, Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Canada, Italy, and Switzerland” (Sebastian Naidoo: Redesigning the ReliefWeb, In: Information Management Journal, September/Octpber 2007, p. 53, http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/lib.nsf/db900sid/TBRL-77ENDF/$file/IMJ-redesigningreliefweb-sep_oct2007.pdf?openelement, accessed on 4 June 2008).
Scope of reporting:
Geographic focus: All countries.
Thematic focus: Agriculture, security, protection/human rights/rule of law, shelter and non-food items, water and sanitation, coordination and support services, education, food, health, infrastructure and rehabilitation, mine action, refugees and IDPs.
Aiming to achieve comprehensive coverage, ReliefWeb seeks to follow an “event from the first moment that it was reported”. Humanitarian disasters and emergencies may be tracked over a long period (Diva International: "ReliefWeb" Interview with Sharon Rusu, Acting Coordinator, Diva International 2007, Issue N1, http://www.divainternational.ch/spip.php?article150, accessed on 5 June 2008).
Information is collected by using a “’web-spider’ that gathers information on the Internet”. The work done by the ‘spider’ is then checked by ReliefWeb editors, particularly as far as “the provenance of sources” is concerned (eg a government’s rule of law, an NGO’s sources of funding, political tendency of media sources). Information is selected as “part of an entire response plan for the particular country or area”, in adherence to different criteria which apply to measuring the humanitarian impact of a disaster or conflict. “Source acquisition” is conducted according to ReliefWeb’s principles of “reliability, timeliness, trustworthiness, integrity, and independence” of information. In cases where the origin and nature of the source cannot be defended, ReliefWeb refrains from publishing the information in question (Diva International: "ReliefWeb" Interview with Sharon Rusu, Acting Coordinator, Diva International 2007, Issue N1, http://www.divainternational.ch/spip.php?article150, accessed on 5 June 2008).
Mostly English, some documents are posted in French and Spanish.
Navigation of website:
Updates on specific countries are accessible by selecting the respective region from the Countries & Emergencies box on the homepage. This leads to a list of countries (along with a list of Complex Emergencies and Natural Disasters in the region), from which the country in question may be selected. The most recent updates are immediately visible. Older ones can be accessed by selecting the item All. A list of all reports on the country appears. Search results can then be narrowed down by date, sector (eg thematic focus, see above), content type and organisation type (eg source type).
Alternatively, relevant updates can be searched in the ReliefWeb document database using the Advanced Search tool, which can be accessed via the homepage. It allows document searches inter alia by keyword, language, document type, emergency, location (region/ country), source type/source, sector (eg thematic focus, see above) and date.