Disasters — Page 5 of 23 — LIRNEasia

I was invited to speak at the opening session of the ESCAP training workshop organized by the ICT and DRR Division, March 8-9, 2016. This was to introduce the report we had prepared for ESCAP on Building e-resilience, which is about to be released. The slides I used in my presentation are here. Because there was enough time (unusually), I went into some depth on one recommendation per inter-governmental organizations; governments and telecom service operators. Insurance appeared under two headings and took much of the time devoted to discussion.
I’ve been writing about Indonesia’s tsunami buoys for a while. This was when I was trying to dissuade people in Sri Lanka of the need for our own tsunami detection system. We are not located in an earthquake zone and thus only vulnerable to teletsunamis that come from the Sunda Trench. Indonesia and Thailand need to sensors because of their proximity to the Trench. But little did I know that the Indonesian system suffered from the project syndrome: money for installation but nothing for maintenance.

10 years of work presented at SEI-Asia

Posted on January 15, 2016  /  0 Comments

I was invited to share my research with Stockholm Environment Institute Asia office in Bangkok. The intention was for SEI-Asia Researchers to possibly identify any areas for collaboration. I themed my talk on “ICT4D action research in Early Warning Systems”. It has been 10 years since I first began my research work in December of 2005. It was important to first establish an abstract definition of an EWS.
Government of Nepal, mostly under the leadership of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, is on a mission to strengthen their national emergency communications. They are facilitating a multi-agency approach to promoting the development of a National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP). Members of the Nepal Emergency Telecommunications Cluster are contributing to the NECP. The Emergency telecommunications Cluster was formed after the earthquake to bring back communications in support of humanitarian operations (ISOC Nepal attended those meetings). The Government of Nepal has recognized the importance of ICT as a cross-cutting issue in emergency communications for saving lives.
Pakistani researchers have developed a solar-powered portable mobile phone network that can be used when the regular mobile phone networks are down due to natural disasters. Dubbed as the Rescue Base Station (RBS) for Pakistan, the system has been jointly developed by a team from the Information Technology University (ITU) in Lahore and the University of California. “When the RBS is installed in a disaster-struck area, people automatically start receiving its signals on their mobile phones. They can manually choose it and then call, send messages and even browse (internet) data free of charge,” said Umar Saif, ITU vice chancellor and an adviser to the project. The RBS is a lightweight, compact rectangular box fitted with an antenna, a signal amplifier and a battery, which can be carried easily and even dropped by helicopter in hard-to-reach disaster zones.
I had to read this op-ed that ran in a Nepal newspaper several times. The author, a former advisor to the former President of South Korea, believes that an application that picks up on fluctuations in Internet traffic to give people advance warning of 30 seconds to two minutes has relevance to post-quake Nepal. I was just wondering how the warning would be transmitted in a country where Internet access is not ubiquitous (according to latest ITU data Nepal had 13.3 Internet users per 100 people); and what one can actually do with 30 seconds to two minutes warning even if one had a computer, it was connected to the Internet and one was at the machine. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on ensuring buildings are built to code?
Disaster response is an important element in the disaster management cycle. Post Nepal earthquake, a group of volunteers (Kathmandu Living Labs) is using crowd-sourcing for disaster response. They started their operations within 24 hours after the earthquake and consist of 36 locals and more that 4300 supporters from around the world. They use crisis mapping technique to map thousands of reports that come in to their workstation asking for relief. OpenStreetMap, a free editable map is used by them for this endeavor.
I started writing this the day the news came of the earthquake. But it seemed unlikely to get published in Nepal. So I added some language on applicability to other countries. Earthquakes happen. Even if most buildings survived, some would collapse.
As many know, LIRNEasia is engaged with Nepal. We work with the Internet Society of Nepal and have long-standing good relations with the Nepal Telecom Authority. Late March we were in Nagarkot, about an hour away from Kathmandu and quite close to now devastated Bakhtapur. As a knowledge-based organization with ten plus years of experience in disaster risk reduction work, our first reaction was knowledge based. But we seldom stop there.
I was just interviewed on the phone by the BBC Sinhala Service. Since many who read this blog will not be able to hear or understand this, thought I would summarize the key points: 1. The immediate priorities should be rescue and housing and care of those rendered homeless. Sahana and mobile communication can play a vital role in helping efficient coordination of these activities. 2.
Many people I care for live in Nepal. Less than a month ago I was teaching in Nagarkot, in the hills about an hour out of Kathmandu. I recognize some of the buildings with cracks that come on the TV screen. I receive the tweets that say #prayforNepal. I wonder, who does one pray to?
National Safety Day was somewhat overshadowed by floods and an election. Yet, LIRNEasia and its partner Sarvodaya pulled together a good exhibit. The judges have selected our exhibit as one of the top three. As a reward we have been offered an educational trip to Bangkok. Someone from Sarvodaya will make the trip.

Knowledge, the tsunami and citizens

Posted on December 30, 2014  /  1 Comments

In the overview piece that keeps popping up in various media (link below), I highlighted the importance of knowledge. Not only its creation, but its incorporation into everyday practice. Not only of government and private sector, but also of citizens. Knowledge, he stressed, has to be incorporated into everyday practice not only by the government and private sector, but all citizens. “Let’s hope that the 10th anniversary of our greatest natural disaster will energise the efforts to build resilient societies in Asia Pacific.

Indian Ocean Tsunami + 10

Posted on December 26, 2014  /  1 Comments

LIRNEasia was three months old when the tsunami struck, killing over 200,000 people in countries around the Bay of Bengal where we intended to focus our efforts as a nascent think tank. But it hit Sri Lanka, where we are based, very hard. On a per-capita basis, Sri Lanka suffered the greatest loss of lives, close to one in 600 people perishing over the morning hours of the 26th. Our small organization was untouched, thankfully. My daughter, fresh from the US, wanted a holiday with a fireplace.
Based on writing and interviews done in June 2015 in the context of LIRNEasia’s events organized to mark the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami on December 2004 http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Regional/2014/12/22/Contributing-to-global-knowledge/. The first multilingual trials of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) – a data format for exchanging public warnings and emergencies between alerting technologies – were carried out in Sri Lanka as part of the Hazard Information Project funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre.
Despite the massive goof-up with the situation reports which over-reported the number of casualties from the Koslanda landslide by a factor of eight (300 as against the actual 38), the country has been shaken by the disaster. The Sinhala language weekly, Ravaya, was dominated by it. The article that I contributed, building on the thinking we had done after the tsunami, and what our colleague science journalist Nalaka Gunawardene had contributed stood out in terms of constructive proposals that would help avoid such calamities in the future. The relevant sections in English are given below: The foundation is the development of good hazard assessments. Consultants working for the Disaster Management Center have developed these for the coastal areas though they are not public.