All about our Smart Donations trial
with Oxfam Austraila.

Earthquake Insurance

In a series of blogs, we’re going to explain the details of each different 'Smart Donation' you can sign up for through the Smart Donations app over the duration of the pilot.

In a series of blogs, we’re going to explain the details of each different ‘Smart Donation’ you can sign up for through the Smart Donations app. There are five themes in total, based on a range of different conditions and data sources, and which can be used to donate to a number of different Oxfam Australia projects. In each post, we’ll explain the causes, conditions and data involved, and give some examples of how the Smart Donation might play out.

What is this Smart Donation about?

This Smart Donation is about ensuring communities that are affected by an earthquake have the support they need, quickly. With this Smart Donation, we can use live earthquake data, to trigger donations to a pooled crisis fund that Oxfam can use to respond to natural disasters around the world. This Smart Donation works like a kind of insurance – your donation will be released every time an earthquake above a certain strength occurs in a region you care about. Those funds will then be used in the near future when and where they are needed most.

Beneficiary: International Crisis Fund

Oxfam responds rapidly and efficiently to natural or man-made emergencies around the globe, assessing the most vulnerable people affected and working in partnership with local and international organisations. The International Crisis Fund is a vital resource, which ensures that Oxfam can be on the ground when emergencies strike, providing food, clean water, shelter, hygiene kits and other essential items.

Importantly, Oxfam’s International Crisis Fund is not only used to respond to earthquakes, but any kind of natural or man-made disaster where Oxfam can respond, and when the funds are needed most.

Conditions: What can we use to trigger a donation?

In this Smart Donation, we use data on the magnitude of earthquakes and their location.
You can pledge donations based on the magnitude of earthquakes. You may give small amounts for smaller, and more regular earthquakes; or you may wish to give large amounts for larger, less frequent earthquakes.

The magnitude of earthquakes (M) is typically measured using the Richter scale. In our plans, or in the Smart Donation builder, you can donate for any earthquakes from 1.0 to 7.0 on the Richter scale. The Richter Scale does not express damage, as earthquakes in densely populated areas can result in many casualties and considerable damage while a larger-magnitude earthquake in a remote area may not. Earthquakes that occur beneath the oceans may not even be felt by humans (although they may trigger tsunamis).

Earthquakes with a magnitude of about 2.0 or less are usually called microearthquakes and are not typically felt by people. These smaller tremors may also be caused by man-made activities, such as drilling and fracking.

Every year there are thousands of earthquakes all over the world with magnitudes of 4.5 or greater. These tend to be felt by people, but rarely cause considerable disaster.

Earthquakes greater than Magnitude 7.0 have a tremendous impact. For instance the 2017 Puebla earthquake in Mexico had a magnitude of 7.1; 370 people died and over 6,000 people were injured. Between October 2018 and October 2019, Indonesia has experienced six earthquakes between 5.6 and 7.3.

After large earthquakes, there are frequent aftershocks, and further smaller tremors. These can also be dangerous, and will also be monitored in Smart Donations.
You can also give based on the location of an earthquake. From the USGS live map of earthquakes you can see where the Earth’s tectonic plates meet, and where earthquakes typically occur.

First you can donate based on earthquakes occuring in specific continents. For example, you could decide to give a $1 donation every time there was an earthquake greater than 5.0M anywhere in Asia.

Second, you can even select specific countries you wish to monitor. So you could opt to give $5 one-off, if there is an earthquake greater than 6.0M in Indonesia.

Importantly, only the most significant earthquakes that lead to a natural disaster will trigger a response from Oxfam. So if you donate $1 for a 4.3M earthquake in Japan, this donation will not go to Japan where it is not needed. Instead, all donations will go to the International Crisis Fund, which is used to respond to ANY natural disasters where Oxfam can respond.

What data do we trust to validate these conditions?

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) provides the most comprehensive monitoring and reporting on earthquakes around the world. It is part of the The Global Seismographic Network, a network of over 150 seismic stations distributed globally, which are operated by the USGS Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory, the IDA group at UC San Diego, and other affiliate organizations.

To determine the magnitude and location of earthquakes we are using an open application program interface (API) provided by the US Geological Survey. This data endpoint aggregates data from the global sensor network and allows us to determine the location and the magnitude of an earthquake. The smart donation platform is requesting a new dataset every 5 minutes so you will have the latest, up-to-date information at your fingertips.

So how might these work?

Emily pledges to donate $5 if Indonesia experiences an earthquake greater than 5.5M.

Emily has spent time in Indonesia on holiday, and was moved to hear about the earthquakes and tsunamis that have struck since 2017. Emily wishes to set up a Smart Donation to donate to crisis funds if an earthquake strikes Indonesia again. To ‘create her own’ Smart Donation, she selects the continent of Asia, and specifies Indonesia. Then she slides the slider to select a minimum magnitude of 5.5 as this seems to be a big enough earthquake to get into the news. She decided to set the Smart Donation for two weeks.

Fortunately, during this time, there were no earthquakes over 5.5M in Indonesia, and so the funds were returned to Emily, and she could make a new donation.

Sam pledges to donate $0.30 (up to $4) each time a small earthquake (above 3.5 MSI) is detected in Asia or Oceania.

Sam is interested in how frequent earthquakes are, and wants to give a little, every time there’s an earthquake anywhere in the world. Using this plan, he has a $4 maximum, and a few times a day, he is notified of where small earthquakes happen, and donates 30c to Oxfam’s International Crisis Fund.

After 5 days, most of his $4 has been donated, but 40c remains, and this is returned to him, to be pledged towards other Smart Donations and causes.