I was invited to speak at the launch of the UNDP-funded DataSmart initiative of the Ministry of Disaster Management, where some work is being done by Sarvodaya Fusion. I talked about the need not only to collect data, but also to ensure that it produced the right kind of information that could be translated by the beneficiaries into action that saved lives and protected assets and livelihoods. We need to think beyond generalized disaster warnings to provide people in particular locations with specific, actionable information that they could use, such as the river will crest in this particular location at x meters at this specific time.
I went on to talk about the need to have more granular rainfall data that could be fed into models that could yield the kinds of actionable information people living in our river valleys could use. The attenuation of microwave transmissions caused by rainfall is built into the operation of the ubiquitous mobile networks. LIRNEasia, in partnership with Dialog Axiata and University of Moratuwa, is in the final stages of securing funding to develop a proof of concept in the basins of the Kelani, Kalu and Malvatu rivers. If the funding is approved, we will hand over the results to the government, which has responsibility for disaster risk reduction.
Despite the spectacular effects of disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the effects are largest from hydrological hazards. Too much rain, we have floods that can cause economic losses in the billions. Too little can shave off a percentage point from GDP growth.
I also talked about the need to use practical solutions to the problem of matching demand for relief and supplies in the aftermath of a disaster.