How Google and GiveDirectly are using AI mapping to bring money to Hurricane Ian victims

How Google and GiveDirectly are using AI mapping to bring money to Hurricane Ian victims

After a disaster like Hurricane Ian, it can take days or even weeks for people to receive help – and when it does, it’s usually in the form of in-kind donations, from clothes to food, it may not be what someone needs at this time. moment. The nonprofit GiveDirectly is taking a different approach in Florida and Puerto Rico and sending $700 cash payments to low-income hurricane survivors.

“In our experience, the very well-meaning infrastructure around disaster relief has allowed people to get a lot of things they don’t actually need in the aftermath of a storm,” says Sarah Moran, US Country Director of GiveDirectly. “People will send blankets and water bottles, medicine and treats. And what we’ve heard loud and clear from people experiencing disaster recovery is that they need to be able to choose how they can recover on their own. Cash is a much more effective way to ensure we meet the needs of people who have weathered a storm.

That’s not to say the other gifts aren’t as helpful – bottled water is needed if clean water isn’t available, and if stores are closed or out of stock, a gift of diapers might be more useful than money to buy them. But it’s important to also give people the option to pay for what they need most, whether that’s renting a car to get to work or paying rent.

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

“What we can then do is target at the census block level who we want to pay, and what’s great is that we can do that within a day of receiving the satellite imagery,” says- she. “Whereas going out into the field, walking around and looking at people’s houses and trying to figure out who’s been hit, is much more difficult and much less effective. You could miss an entire neighborhood, if you try to do it manually.

Using the Providers app, which millions of Americans use to manage SNAP benefits to buy food, GiveDirectly sends a notification to people in the hardest-hit areas, letting them know they might be eligible . Within seconds they can complete an application and the money can appear in their account within 24-48 hours.

Last week, the nonprofit started making the first payments in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. It wasn’t as destructive as Ian, but with the island still not recovering from Hurricane Maria five years ago, they knew more support was needed. The first payments in Florida will begin on Thursday, and the nonprofit will analyze the program to see if more payments are needed in the future.

Thanks in part to previous work by GiveDirectly, other organizations are also beginning to use cash transfers, including FEMA, which also plans to offer cash to people affected by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico. But GiveDirectly thinks it can reach more people faster.

Equitable disaster relief is essential, she says. “Storms like this are devastating for everyone. But there is also data that shows that major storms exacerbate wealth inequality and exacerbate and widen the racial wealth gap. The post-storm recovery is therefore a critical time to ensure that the most vulnerable people receive the support they need to rebuild. And that’s why we do this work.

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