©OlivierMatthys , ICRC

Humanitarian Tech Hub


The world has not seen as many forcibly displaced people since World War II. In 2019 almost 71 million people had to flee their homes because of conflict and insecurity. Out of those, 80% are being hosted in neighbouring countries, which are mostly LMICs. There are also natural or man-made disasters as well as large outbreaks of severe diseases afflicting essentially poor countries: for example, Ebola, which created a massive humanitarian crisis. In 2016 the Humanitarian Tech Hub was established jointly by ICRC and EPFL, and hosted at the EssentialTech Centre. The needs for essential technologies to address both humanitarian and development needs are very similar, though the process to develop and deploy them is often different. The goal of the hub is to support humanitarian action through implementation of science and technology development projects.

Building on this successful collaboration, the EPFL and the ICRC, joined by ETH Zurich, launched in 2020 the Engineering Humanitarian Aid partnership, a collaboration to develop innovative solutions for more impactful humanitarian action. A joint call for proposals, the Humanitarian Action Challenges (HAC), was issued in the framework of this initiative and awarded financing to a total of six innovative projects, two of which will be carried out by ETHZ researchers, two by EPFL researchers, and two as joint projects by researchers from both universities.

  • The Humanitarian Tech Hub: A collaboration with the ICRC inaugurated in 2016 which aims to bring the benefits of technology innovation to people most affected by conflicts and catastrophes. The Hub focuses on three priority areas, 1) Data and cyber security, 2) Digital health and 3) Energy and the environment.
  • Engineering Humanitarian Aid: A joint initiative from EPFL, ETH Zurich and the ICRC aims to develop innovative solutions for more impactful humanitarian action
  • Humanitarian Action Challenge: A call for research projects inviting EPFL and ETH Zurich research communities to submit independent or joint proposals to support the ICRC in its mission to protect and assist people affected by conflict and armed violence. The last call grantees were announced in December 2020. Two additional calls are planned in 2021.


Humanitarian aid is a key sector in which EPFL can bring tangible skills.

Martin Vetterli

President EPFL, Link to the full interview