From as long ago as 2005, we at LIRNEasia have been talking about insurance as a critical element in disaster risk reduction. And we have been pushing this idea at ESCAP, among other places. But somehow, we did not see it gaining traction. But finally, it seems to be: For a farmer in Zimbabwe, adopting this model will entail accessing strong climate data so she knows when best to plant and harvest. By purchasing parametric insurance – that is, insurance that pays out not on proof of loss but when a defined event is above a pre-determined and measurable trigger – she will receive a pay out if rainfall is under a certain level by a certain date.
LIRNEasia has worked with Sarvodaya, one of Sri Lanka’s well-established community-based organizations, since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. As part of our HazInfo project, they established a disaster response unit and embedded resilience as part of their work plans and training. They had come to think that the government would take the lead in providing immediate assistance in the aftermath of a disaster because a Ministry focused on disaster management had been established and the various entities under it active. The urban flood disaster that hit the lower reaches of the Kelani river made them rethink their stance. The government response was seen as slow and ineffective.
It was barely a month after LIRNEasia conducted a course on broadband policy and regulation in Nagarkot, that Nepal was affected by the Ghorka Earthquake. Our hearts went out for the people of Nepal who suffered from a series of tremblors, power and communication outages and many difficulties. We managed to convey some support for the immediate relief activities undertaken by our partner, the Internet Society of Nepal. But we concluded that what would be most valuable would be a contribution in the form of an assessment of how the communication system stood up to the earthquake and what lessons could be learned to make networks more resilient. That report, based on field visits and extensive consultations with those who directly experienced the problems, is now public here.
In the policy world, one does not want to be alone. I have even dressed up new policy ideas as variations on existing ones, in order to get them accepted. When Abu Saeed Khan persuaded me that international backhaul was an important issue in Islamabad in May 2010, he was quite alone. When I made the first presentation on the subject to the expert group at ESCAP in November 2010, LIRNEasia was a lone voice in the wilderness. Abu then took the lead role.
LIRNEasia was among team of researchers under the umbrella of Data-­Pop Alliance was contracted to produce a synthesis report as part of a DfID project on Big Data for climate change and disaster resilience in developing countries, meant to feed into the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. In this context I participated in a discussion workshop in London on June 5, 2015. Also participating were researchers from Flowminder (working on big data and climate change issues in Bangladesh) and University College London (analyzing all kinds of big data, including GPS locations of fishing fleets worldwide and data from public-transport payment cards. There was much discussion about how big data research could be made more responsive to the needs of users (defined as including citizens rather than government officials) and on inclusiveness. As the only South-based research organization that had obtained data and conceptualized and executed big data research, LIRNEasia was asked to present its experience in the form of a case study on how barriers to data access could be overcome.
Was surprised the Rio operations center from 2010 is still Exhibit 1. Has nothing much happened since? I can’t find any reports in the past tense about Bangalore water supply other than the para below. Guess it is still work in progress. A different view of resiliency considers the creation of “smart” infrastructure that is instrumented, interconnected and intelligent, and provides the owners with adaptive capacity, the foundation for resilience.
Our own work with big data focuses on cities. This guest editorial in the UN Global Pulse blog provides as excellent rationale for the focus on cities. In addition, it raises some areas for caution. Placing algorithms at the forefront (or even in the front-row seat) of decision-making may have potentially severe drawbacks. It’s indeed us who program algorithms, and we are exposed to a variety mistakes while programming.
We’ve been thinking some big changes were coming to energy, mostly because of application of ICTs and concern about excessive centralization. But could this accelerate everything? According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents.
It is true that we tend to overdo the ceremonial elements, but well-organized conferences perform a vital function in public policy making and implementation. They concentrate the attention of the relevant persons, both in terms of preparing presentations and in terms of listening. Not all of it sticks, but if well designed, enough seeps through to improve performance in the relevant sector. Next week, the Ministry of Disaster Management is organizing a large conference with national and international participation on the theme “the future we want — A safer Sri Lanka.” I am chairing a session and presenting a paper based on work we did for UN ESCAP on making ICT infrastructure disaster resilient to support more effective action in the relief and recovery phases.
Senior Policy Fellow Abu Saeed Khan and I participated in the ESCAP consultation that sought input on three documents: a report on the state of optical-fiber-based connectivity in the ASEAN region, a new interactive map of international and domestic fiber cables in Asia and a report by LIRNEasia on resilience of ICT infrastructures. The agenda and links to presentations are here. Following revisions, our report too should be published.
There is a trade off between operating networks that are able to keep operating in the face of disasters and keeping down costs. For example, a 24 hr battery will yield a more robust BTS than a 8 hour battery. But as the FCC initiated discussion revealed, 24 hr batteries impose additional costs on operators. Local rules in some cases do not allow enough space for 24 hr batteries. The issue is, no doubt, important.
Irene was far from our areas of interest, but not far from the newspapers we read. Looks like mobile networks performed well; while fixed had trouble. Wireless phone networks held up well against Hurricane Irene despite widespread losses of power. Many people who lost electricity were able to communicate using e-mail and social networks, thanks to battery-powered mobile devices. As cleanup crews and homeowners began to assess the scope of the damage on Sunday, wireless phone companies were reporting that the storm’s effect on their networks was minimal and that most customers did not experience cellular disruptions, despite the high winds and ferocious rains.
The Directorate of Environment, European Commission organises the conference ‘The Civil Protection Forum – Towards a more resilient society’ that aims to explore the concept of resilience. Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and impact of disasters, and Europe has to be prepared for this challenge. The Forum will start a debate on a comprehensive European disaster management strategy to enhance resilience. Around 500 delegates, speakers and exhibitors from politics, academia, the civil protection services and international organisations are expected to participate. Chanuka Wattegama, Senior Research Manager, LIRNEasia will be one of the speakers in the six practice-oriented seminars will look more closely at how European civil protection works in the field – how does it integrate with other international actors, three major phases of an emergency (prevention, preparedness, and response) and the roles of different stakeholders (institutions, civil protection professionals and civil society).