Role of ICT in natural disaster management of Bangladesh
Bangladesh being world’s eighth-most populous country is highly vulnerable to recurrent natural hazards due to its location and topography (Global Population Census Country rank, 2014). It regularly experiences earthquakes, floods, droughts, tornadoes and cyclones. Being located in a tectonically active zone, Bangladesh has a long history of seismic tremors. Major cities such as Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet are extremely vulnerable to earthquakes due to high population density and unplanned growth over the years (Shaw, Mallick and Islam, 2013). Rapid, unplanned urbanization exponentially increases the number of people and property at risk. Total global annual average loss (AAL) for earthquakes is estimated at more than US$100 billion where Bangladesh AAL is projected between 100 to 1000 million US$ (Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, 2013). The country is prone to floods and cyclones almost at a regular interval where it has the highest number of people exposed to flooding in the world (Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2011). The impacts are becoming more visible at the local level, with greater impacts on poor and vulnerable communities.
During disasters, information is as much a necessity as water, food and medicine. ICT is thus among the lifelines which helps to save lives, livelihoods and resources. Responding effectively to disasters demand rapid access to reliable and accurate data (Yap, 2011). Thus, speedy communication to appropriate stake holders is essential in order to organize and mobilize resources and coordinate response activities among agencies involved. Therefore, information sharing and integration of communication is critical which is time demanding as well (Wattegama, 2007).
At present there is a growing awareness of the importance of ICT for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) (UNAPCICT, 2010). DRR through ICT aims to reduce the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones by an ethic of prevention.1 Recent literatures and reports supported the accelerated paradigm shift from response activities to DRR practice in different countries. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) has also promoted the integrated concept of DRR through five priority areas, known as Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA 2005–2015) (UNISDR, 2005).
Risk reduction and management relies on large amount of statistically processed data. The emergency activity depends on fast response, reliable access to existing data, up-to-date field information, integration and distribution of information among various stake holders. Many applications of risk reduction are hazard specific.
Thus, it is difficult to consider only one type of hazard as often one hazard is triggered by another. Floods near industrial areas may cause technological hazards like explosions, fires, etc. Earthquakes may provoke subsequent landslides, liquefaction, tsunami etc. In this context, disasters triggered by a primary hazard and developing to a secondary hazard should also be considered as likely. Therefore, DRR is often mentioned in a multi-hazard context where ICT can play a vital and integrating role (Zlatanova, 2015).
ICTs have become an integral part of operations for disaster preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. Although they have been around for three decades and are widely used, several new trends origin great enhancement as follows:
- Increases in accessibility, connectivity, usability and open-source technology.
- Blending of networks, hardware, applications, social media and mapping platforms.
Utilising ICT tools, disaster-affected communities can be engaged directly in dialogue and two-way communication. This will rapidly improve humanitarians understanding of their needs in the local context which will ultimately enable communities to build their own response. We cannot stop disaster but we can minimize risk. Impact of disaster can be alleviated (Yap, 2011).
Communities are now becoming more engaged in humanitarian actions than ever before. Simultaneously, the rise in use of ICT also provides unique abilities to coordinate humanitarian action and be more accountable to local communities.
Moreover, it provides unique tools to mobilize financial support and volunteer communities. Emergency response is a kind of dependency. If the community can be empowered to be resilient to disaster only then DRR can be achieved in true sense (IFRC, 2014).
Bangladesh ICT Policy 2009 (strategic theme 9.3) stated to protect citizens from natural disasters through ICT based disaster warning & management technologies (ICTD, 2009). Consequently, minimizing DRR through the use of ICT is among the objectives set under the ICT Policy (BTRC, 2012). ICT has played a significant role to bring paradigm shift in disaster management from conventional response and relief practice to a more comprehensive risk reduction culture in Bangladesh (Azad, Bahauddin and Himel, 2013). DRR has become a major development agenda since 2002 in Bangladesh. The global knowledge on “Reducing Risk” has also become very popular in Bangladesh not only because Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country but also it has contributed in shaping the knowledge about disaster risk. There is a history of strong “disaster preparedness” backbone in Bangladesh, which earned justified attention of the world in shaping the knowledge and paradigm in disaster management discipline (Shaw, Mallick and Islam, 2013).
Although a good ICT infrastructure is in place in Bangladesh, there is yet no comprehensive well-defined system in the country to designate the institutions and their responsibilities for emergency communication in a post-disaster situation (UNAPCICT, 2010). Standing Orders on Disasters have not also clearly defined the aspect of ICT and emergency telecommunication (DMB, 2010). However, for effective DRR an integrated communication system is indispensable (Aizu, 2011).
Thus, scopes exist in diversifying ICT applications uses to enhance integrated information management for minimizing hazard specific risks in a timely manner.
Besides, there is eminence of major obstacles for ICT and emergency communication when a natural hazard strikes Bangladesh (UNAPCICT, 2010).
Firstly, the heavily damaged or destroyed communication networks will lead to a complete communication blackout in the affected areas. Secondly, even if part of the existing communication system is operational, they may quickly become oversubscribed by increasing traffic volume at the time of the disaster, making communication difficult. Thirdly, in an event of a major earthquake in Bangladesh particularly in large cities, there is high possibility of a severe breakdown in power supply in and around the affected areas. Furthermore, during disaster events, one of the most common problems for the telecommunication operators (both public and private) is power failure, which hampers the delivery of services and disruption of communication. Most of the mobile phone network operators have limited power back-ups, especially in remote areas (UNAPCICT, 2010).
The role of ICTs in community and national adaptation strategies to the long-term impacts of natural disasters has been reviewed in several recent publications (Yap, 2011). Though limited studies and systematic impact analyses were performed for ICT’s role as contributing to more effective and efficient DRR, yet those were not sufficient as they could not incorporate integrated ICT tools for DRR.
This dissertation focuses on the role of ICTs in minimizing and managing the impacts from acute natural disasters events within a broad spectrum, where actual ICT applications in natural hazards will be described in determining the tools to integrate ICTs for effective DRR in the context of Bangladesh. Prevailing natural hazards in Bangladesh with special reference to earthquake, flood, cyclone and tornado is identified in chapter 2, where risk reduction approaches in disaster management is explored at the end viewing the importance of a people-centered approach. Then, the role of ICTs in disaster management practices is described in Chapter 3, showcasing the critical role in enabling communities to prepare for and cope with the impacts of extreme natural hazard events. Chapter 4 presents the current state of ICTs in Bangladesh highlighting on its limitations. Subsequently, in Chapter 5 some reflections on the potential of ICTs in DRR are narrated. Thereafter, Chapter 6 identifies means to integrate ICT tools suggesting how it could be utilized for more effective DRR in Bangladesh. Finally, the dissertation concludes viewing the importance on use of ICTs in DRR in a developing country like Bangladesh.
Objective of the Study
The study was carried out for the fulfillment of the following objectives:
- To analyze the usefulness of ICT elements in disaster management practices of Bangladesh.
- To investigate the challenges in maintaining ICT connectivity in disaster scenario at community level in Bangladesh.
- To assess the integrated ICT tools for DRR practices in Bangladesh.
The study aimed to determine the factors responsible for associated management of ICT connectivity in disaster scenario for Bangladesh at present. This also helped in identifying underlying causes for potential disruption and limitations under different natural hazard scenarios which provided significant information base for suggested planning of effective tools for integrated ICT to address DRR practices of Bangladesh.
Geological Location and Setting
The study area is Bangladesh in a broad spectrum of Asia-pacific region. Bangladesh is a low-lying, riverine country located in South Asia with a largely marshy jungle coastline of 710 km on the northern littoral of the Bay of Bengal. Formed by a deltaic plain at the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers and their tributaries, Bangladesh’s alluvial soil is highly fertile but extremely vulnerable to hydro-meteorological hazards like flood and drought (URL 3). Hills rise above the plain only in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the far southeast and the Sylhet division in the northeast. Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate characterized by heavy seasonal rainfall, high temperatures and high humidity. The country occupies major part of the bengal delta, one of the largest in the world (URL 4).
The broad geological features of the Bengal Basin and its prominent tectonic elements are Indian platform, Bengal foredeep2, Arakan Yoma folded system, and the Sub-Himalayan foredeep. The country has an area of 147,570 square kilometers and extends 820 kilometers north to south and 600 kilometers east to west. Bangladesh is bordered on the west, north, and east by a 4,095 kilometers land frontier with India and in the southeast, by a short land and water frontier of 193 kilometers with Myanmar. On the south is a highly irregular deltaic coastline of about 580 kilometers, crisscrossed by many rivers and streams flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
This complexity of environment and utilization patterns has important implications for the vulnerability and depletion of the natural resource base which is often further threatened by natural hazards. Rapid urbanization without considering the geological aspects has brought significant changes in the geo-environment of Bangladesh (URL 5).
Bangladesh has a subtropical monsoon climate characterized by wide seasonal variations in rainfall, high temperatures and humidity. In general, maximum summer temperatures range between 30°C and 40°C. April is the warmest month in most parts of the country. January is the coldest month, when the average temperature for most of the country is about 10°C. Heavy rainfall is characteristic of Bangladesh. Under the Koppen climate classification, Bangladesh has a tropical savanna climate. Increasing air and water pollution emanating from traffic congestion and industrial waste coupled with erosion of natural habitats are serious problems affecting public health and the quality of life which ultimately threatens to destroy much of the regional biodiversity.
Bangladesh is largely ethnically homogeneous, and its name derives from the Bengali ethno-linguistic group which comprises 98% of the population with many dialects of Bengali spoken except those in Chittagong and Sylhet which are particularly distinctive. In 2013 the population was estimated at 160 million. About 90% of Bangladeshis are Muslims, followed by Hindus (9%) and others (1%).
Bangladesh has the highest population density in the world, excluding few city-states like Malta and Hong Kong. Bangladesh had high rates of population growth in the 1960s and 1970s. Due to reduction in its total fertility rate, over a period of three decades it dropped from almost 7 to 2.4 in 2005-2010. The sprawling megacity of Dhaka has a huge population, but the majority still live in rural areas. Country’s urban population is 27% of total population (2009 est.) and rate of urbanization is 3.5% (2005-2010 est.).
Significant Natural Hazard Profile in General
Bangladesh is the fifth most disaster-prone country in the world according to Global Climate Risk Index 2014 (URL 6). The country is highly vulnerable to different types of disaster because of climatic variability, extreme events, high population density, high incidence of poverty and social inequity, poor institutional capacity, inadequate financial resources, and poor infrastructure. These disasters cause immense losses of lives and damage to properties, livelihoods and economic infrastructure. The country faces at least one major disaster a year; it has lost on average 3.02% of its GDP every year during the last decade and holds the highest disaster mortality rate in the world (URL 7). Adverse effects of climate change in Bangladesh could result in losing one-third of its mainland into the Bay of Bengal due to rise in sea level. Moreover, coupled with the problem of rising temperature may reduce crop production significantly in an agri-based country like Bangladesh (Shaw, Mallick and Islam, 2013).
Bangladesh occupies the greater parts of the Bengal Basin, which is one of the largest geosynclinals4 of the world (URL 8). Bangladesh has truly been emerged from the sea and hundreds of rivers have given the shape of its landscapes as one of the fertile landmasses of the earth. The geographical setting of Bangladesh has made the country vulnerable to a series of geological and hydro-metrological hazards. The major hazards concerned here are the occurrences of floods, cyclones, droughts, tidal surges, tornadoes, earthquakes, river erosion, fire, infrastructure collapse, high arsenic contents of ground water, water logging, water and soil salinity, epidemic and various forms of pollution. These are termed as disasters when they adversely affect the whole environment, including human beings, their shelters and the resources essential for their livelihoods.
Fig: Areas Prone to Each Type of Disaster
For the purposes of this dissertation, the term “natural hazards” is taken to include the wide variety of meteorological, hydrological, geological and climate phenomena which can pose a threat to life, property and the environment. The spatial and temporal scales of these hazards vary widely from short-lived, violent, phenomena of limited extent (e.g. tornadoes and severe thunderstorms) through large systems (e.g. tropical and extra-tropical cyclones). These events can affect the whole country with strong winds, heavy flood-producing rains, storm surges, coastal flooding and extreme hot or cold temperatures in the context of local climate for periods of several days. At the larger scale are widespread droughts which may affect huge areas for months to years causing famine and loss of life and loss of animal populations along with increased risk of desertification (O’Neill, 1997).
Meteorological and hydrological forecasting requirements for effective early warnings of these hazards span a very broad continuum. These can range from less than one hour in the case of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods through short and medium forecast ranges extending from hours through days for tropical cyclones, heavy rains and high winds. Hence, timely and effective warnings of natural and related hazards coupled with local capability to take avoidance or mitigating actions are fundamental requirements for such kind of DRR. However, natural hazards such as floods, cyclones, tornados, earthquakes and droughts may also cause or exacerbate other disasters. These events include the possible risks of secondary hazards like fire, toxic gas releases, oil spills etc.
The mountains and hills bordering almost three-fourths of the country, along with the funnel shaped Bay of Bengal in the south. Such shape made the country a meeting place of life-giving monsoon rains and made it subjected to catastrophic ravages of natural disasters. The Bay of Bengal is widely known as the breeding place of catastrophic cyclones due to the presence of Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). These cyclones turn into disaster and finally find their way towards the coastal belt of Bangladesh which is primarily responsible for colossal damages to life and property almost every year (DDM-MODMR, 2014).
Flood is a recurring phenomenon in the country. Floodplains of the Brahmaputra-Jamuna, the Ganges-Padma and the Meghna river systems are regularly flooded during the monsoon of each year. Although this country with monsoon climate has enough rain, droughts frequently take place especially in the northwest region of the country with a significant impact on agricultural. Tropical cyclones from the Bay of Bengal accompanied by storm surges are one of the major disasters in Bangladesh. The country is one of the worst sufferers of all cyclonic casualties in the world. The higher figure of casualties occurs due to the fact that cyclones are always associated with storm surges. Disastrous erosions are mainly associated with the major river systems of the country and seen along the banks of the BrahmaputraJamuna, Ganges-Padma and Meghna River system. Due to riverbank erosion, lands are lost and people are displaced to new places, mostly in urban or peripheral areas (DDM-MODMR, 2014).
Figure: Flood Affected Areas (percentage)
Earthquake Risk Scenario
Bangladesh lies in a seismically active zone making the occurrence of major earthquakes a realistic possibility. Geographically Bangladesh is located close to the junction of two subduction zones created by two active tectonic plates: the Indian plate and the Eurasian plate (URL 9). Moreover, the country is surrounded by the Himalayan Arc, the Shillong Plateau and the Dauki fault system in the north, the Burmese Arc in the east and the Naga Disang Haflong thrust zone in the northeast. The capital city is vulnerable to the earthquake as the country is in an active region in terms of vertical and horizontal movement of tremor. The existence of an active fault has been proved in Haluaghat of Mymensingh recently, adding further risk to the vulnerability (Saha, 2010 and Bangladesh Disaster Report 2012).
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries of the world to earthquake hazard. This is not only due to its geographical location closer to the seismically active Indian-Burmese plate boundaries but also for its poor infrastructure and complex social conditions. In Bangladesh, cities are more vulnerable than the rural area due to population concentration and unplanned growth of the cities. Geographical orientation of Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Mymensingh, Rangpur, Comilla and northeastern extended areas are under great threat to earthquake hazard (DDM-MODMR, 2014).
Among the natural disasters which are likely to increase due to rapid unplanned urbanization, earthquake is a serious concern. During the last few years several light to wild tremors have jolted Bangladesh. Whether these jolts are forecasting a major earthquake is becoming a concern to most people as well as the experts. According to statistics of Earthquake Observation Centre of Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET), between January 2006 and May 2009, eighty six earthquakes hit Bangladesh which measured at more than four on the richter scale. Experts opine that Dhaka is likely to be affected most if an earthquake hit because of the thick density of population, dilapidated buildings and modern buildings made without following proper guidelines of Bangladesh Building Code (Time-Predictable Fault Modeling, 2009).
Experts suspect that if an earthquake with a 7.0 magnitude occurs in large cities of Bangladesh, there would be a major human tragedy due to the structural failure of many buildings (URL 10). In spite of the increasing urban earthquake risk there are limited comprehensive approach to deal with the risks in Bangladesh in general and Dhaka in particular. Moreover, there are practically few attempts to look into the disaster risk and vulnerability beyond the narrow approaches seeking mere technical input oriented solutions (Sharmin and Saadi, 2013).
Geographically Bangladesh is located close to the boundary of two active plates (URL 11). Bangladesh earthquake zone with its surrounding countries is illustrated in following figure:
It is well known that 95% of world’s earthquake occurs along the boundary line of tectonic plates. Bangladesh is very close to the boundary of Indian and Eurasian plate (Figure 2.5). Based on the record of the Geological Survey of Bangladesh, the country has experienced at least 465 earthquakes of minor-to- moderate magnitudes between 1971 and 2006. The actual number of earthquakes is considered to be many more than this, because many tremors are not recorded due to a lack of proper seismic equipment in the lone operational observatory. Seismic experts consider recent repeated earthquakes of low to medium magnitude as an early warning for a massive and potentially disastrous earthquake in the near future; as these tremors fail to release the majority of the stress that accumulates within fault ruptures zones. Seismic experts also suspect that if an earthquake with a magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale occurs in large cities of Bangladesh, there would be a major human tragedy and economic disaster due to the structural failure of many buildings built in these urban centers without the use of proper construction materials coupled with violation of building codes (Saha, 2010).
During the last 300 years, seven major earthquakes (with>7) have affected Bangladesh. Out of the major earthquakes, only two (1885 and 1918) had their epicenters within Bangladesh border. Major earthquakes affecting Bangladesh is enumerated in following table:
Table: Major Earthquakes Affecting Bangladesh (1548-2009)
Earthquakes are more deadly than any other form of natural hazard. Because of this, scientists have been searching for accurate ways to predict earthquakes to save numerous lives. Statistical analysis is useful method of predicting earthquakes. They provide additional insights to the seismic hazard. Moreover, an earthquake prediction basing on statistical analysis states the probability of occurrence, temporal span, spatial dimension and magnitude range of the earthquake (Roy, 2014).
Bangladesh is seismically very active and earthquake risks are increasingly seen as a major problem. According to Earthquake Disaster Risk Index (EDRI) parameters Dhaka is one of the top twenty high earthquake risk cities in the world (URL 12). During 1918-2007, twelve earthquakes with magnitude M ≥ 7 have affected parts of Bangladesh. Though no major event occurred during the last decades, but seismicity still remains high. The pictorial and tabular behaviors of this entire earthquake are exhibited in following figure (Roy, 2014).
If earthquakes in a given region have a recurrent pattern, then a long-term prediction can be made basing on that. There were twenty nine earthquakes (ML 6 and above) strong enough to damage houses during 1918 to 2008. Three of them (ML 8.5 and above) were powerful enough to cause serious devastation. Using statistical analysis of earthquake, the average interval among these twenty nine earthquakes is 3.179 years. If only three severe earthquakes are considered, the average interval is 24.33 years. But by 2007, 10 years had elapsed since the last severe earthquake, the one in 1997. So it is expected to have another earthquake having magnitude equal to 6 or above in Bangladesh is average 2.95 years later than the preceding one. The probability of having another earthquake with magnitude 6 or above in 7 years later with the same magnitude is 92% (Roy, 2014).
Earthquakes are endogenic in origin and independent of seasonality. The recently measured plate motions at six different sites of Bangladesh including Dhaka clearly demonstrate that Dhaka is moving 30.6 mm/year in the direction northeast.
Further, the rate of strain accumulation is relatively high in and around Dhaka city. It may precipitate in an earthquake of magnitude 6.8 in the event of the release of accumulated strain (Bangladesh Disaster Report 2012). BMD has recorded 16 earthquake tremors in 2013 with a magnitude ranging from 3.3 to 5.9 RS in and around Bangladesh border areas. There were two incidents of magnitude higher than 5, but no noticeable damages were observed. The earthquake of January 9, 2013 had a magnitude of 5.9.RS and was felt throughout the country. The epicenter was 495 km away from Dhaka city, located near Bangladesh-Myanmar border area though there were no reports of any casualties or damages (DDM-MODMR, 2014).
Flood Risk Scenario
Bangladesh is one of the most flood prone areas of the world because of its unique geographical setting and physiographic features together with a massive hydraulic system. The ever increasing population, ill-planned infrastructural development and massive flood control interventions in a floodplain environment have resulted in flood disasters becoming larger and more frequent in recent times.
Socio-economic impact of floods is profound; the flood prone zones represent areas with the highest incidence of the extreme poor and the number of poor living in high flood risk areas is on the rise. The damage to infrastructure constitutes the major proportion when it comes down to economic damage resulting from floods (Shaw, Mallick and Islam, 2013).
Bangladesh is one of the biggest deltas of the world with an extensive network of more than 310 rivers. Monsoon rainfall in the upstream catchment of GangesBrahmaputra-Meghna basins system (Figure 2.8) and within the country is the major cause of flood in Bangladesh.
Fig: Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basins
Flood is a normal monsoon phenomenon in this deltaic plains landmass. In the Brahmaputra basin, flood usually begins in the late June, while in the Ganges basin it starts from the second half of July. Rivers in the North and Southeastern Hill basins are characterized by flash flood. The coastal belt of Bangladesh is inundated by regular tidal flood. The livelihood of the people in Bangladesh is well adapted to normal monsoon flood. However, damages and human suffering to flood are common features in many parts of the country. Flood often has disastrous consequences and is the cause of major damage to infrastructure, great loss of property, crops, livestock, poultry etc. Each of the major flood adversely affected food security and poverty situation of the country (DDM-MODMR, 2014).
Statistics of Flooding
Many parts of the Asia during monsoon frequently suffer from severe floods. Some parts of India and Bangladesh experience floods almost every year with considerable damage. The floods of 1954, 1955, 1974, 1987, 1988, 1998, 2004 and 2007 all caused enormous damages to properties and considerable loss of life. The floods of 1987, 1988 1998, 2004 and 2007 flood caused heavy damage. During the monsoon 2013, the flood was not a severe one and stayed for short duration in all the four basins, the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, the Meghna and South Eastern Hill Basin. Percent of total area of Bangladesh affected by the flood are available since 1954 is presented in following Table (FFWC Annual Flood Report, 2013):
Table: Year-wise Flood Affected Area in Bangladesh
Cyclone and Storm Surge Risk Scenario
The physiographical features of Bangladesh coast make it susceptible to cyclones and associated surges. According to the Multipurpose Cyclone Shelter Program report, 6.4 % of the country is considered High Risk Area where the surge height may exceed one meter. The country has been devastated by a number of cyclones resulting hundreds of thousands of human deaths. Besides, loss and damage of people’s assets and properties have been extensive.
The Bay of Bengal is called a breeding ground for tropical cyclones. Bangladesh is one of the worst victims in terms of fatalities and economic losses for cyclones. The global distributions of cyclones show that only 1% of all cyclones that form every year strike Bangladesh; but unfortunately the fatalities they cause account for 53% of the global total. Records show that 16 out of 35 of the tropical cyclones worldwide that caused deaths of more than five thousand people have occurred in Bangladesh. The funnel shaped coast line and particularly the low topography make the coastal area subject to high surge associated with cyclones.
Tornado Risk Scenario
Though Bangladesh is considered the only other part of the world outside the United States where strong and violent tornadoes are prevalent, little attention has been given to mitigate the risks. Absences of appropriate forecasting and early warning system as well as lack of shelter provision make Bangladesh the country of highest death tolls from Severe Local Convective Storms (SLCS) like tornado and nor-westers. However, severe nor-westers are generally associated with tornadoes.
Tornadoes are embedded within a mother thundercloud, and moves along the direction of the squall of the mother storm. The frequency of devastating nor-westers usually reaches the maximum in April, while a few occur in May, and the minimum in March. Nor-westers and tornadoes are more frequent in the afternoon. Nor-westers may occur in late February due to early withdrawal of winter from Bangladesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, and adjoining areas.
Wind speeds in nor-westers usually do not exceed 113-130 km/hr, though often their speeds exceed 162 km/hr. When the winds become whirling with funnel shaped clouds having a speed of several hundred kilometers per hour, they are called tornados. Nor-westers bring the much needed pre-monsoon rain. They can also cause huge destruction. Tornados are suddenly formed and are extremely localized in nature and of brief duration. Thus, it is very difficult to locate them or forecast their occurrence with the techniques available at present. However, high-resolution satellite pictures, suitable radar, and a network of densely spaced meteorological observatories could be useful for the prediction or for issuing warnings of nor-westers and tornados.
Risk Reduction Approaches in Disaster Management
The Disaster Management vision of the Government of Bangladesh is to reduce the risk of people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, from the effects of natural, environmental and human induced hazards, to a manageable and acceptable humanitarian level, and to have in place an efficient emergency response system capable of handling large scale disasters. In this regard, the country has created a simplistic model to guide DRR and emergency response management efforts. The model ensures that the move to a more comprehensive risk reduction culture remains central to all efforts. Mainstreaming risk reduction efforts within government, NGOs and private sector is viewed as being the key to achieving sustainable all hazards risk reduction interventions across the whole country. In Bangladesh mainstreaming is seen in much the same light as poverty reduction in that it is the outcome of many top down and bottom up interventions (MODMR, 2014).
Bangladesh initiated its actions for disaster preparedness immediately after the cyclone of 1991. At present Bangladesh has National Disaster Management Act-2012, National Disaster Management Policy, Standing Order on Disaster and National Plan for Disaster Management 2010–2015 as key documents guiding the disaster management works in Bangladesh. The country also has disaster management mechanism at both national and sub-national levels. The Bangladesh National Plan for Disaster Management is a strategic document to be effective for a certain period of time. This is an umbrella plan that provides the overall guideline for the relevant sectors and the disaster management committees at all levels to prepare and implement their area of roles specific plans for both thematic level and different levels of administrative structure (DMB, 2010).
DRR is development & application of policies and practices that minimizes risks to vulnerabilities and disasters, applies to managing and/or responding to current disaster risks. Since climate system is fundamental for both issues: 75% of all disasters originate from weather-climate extremes. Thus, DRR and adaptation to climate change strategies both are aimed at enhancing sustainability, resilient societies and human security. In this regard DRR options are the front line adaptation. Current risk reduction will lead to reduction of anticipatory risks of climate change in the form of adaptation. The DRR options that best suit the user and accepted by them will eventually emerge as adaptation options. Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) 2009 rightly weighted the linkage of the climate change and disaster potentials and appropriately taken disaster management as one of the pillar of strategy which are: Food security, Social protection and health, Comprehensive disaster management, Infrastructure, Research and knowledge management, Mitigation and low carbon development and Capacity building and institutional strengthening (BCCSAP, 2009).
The Disaster Management and Relief Division (DM&RD), MoFDM of the Government of Bangladesh has the responsibility for coordinating national disaster management efforts across all agencies. In January 1997 the Ministry issued the Standing Orders on Disaster (SOD) to guide and monitor disaster management activities in Bangladesh. The SOD has been prepared with the avowed objective of making the concerned persons understand their duties and responsibilities regarding disaster management at all levels, and accomplishing them. All Ministries, Divisions/Departments and Agencies shall prepare their own Action Plans in respect of their responsibilities under the Standing Orders for efficient implementation. The National Disaster Management Council (NDMC) and Inter-Ministerial Disaster Management Coordination Committee (IMDMCC) will ensure coordination of disaster related activities at the National level. Coordination at District, Thana and Union levels will be done by the respective District, Thana and Union Disaster Management Committees (URL 14). The Disaster Management Bureau will render all assistance to them by facilitating the process. To achieve the aims, the concerned authorities have adopted strategies like:
- Bringing a paradigm shift in disaster management from conventional response and relief practice to a more comprehensive risk reduction culture.
- Strengthening the capacity of the Bangladesh disaster management system in improving the response and recovery management at all levels.
ICT in Disaster Risk Reduction Approaches
The consequences of natural disasters and the vulnerabilities to which populations are exposed can be mitigated if they are addressed proactively. Though it is not always possible to completely eliminate a risk, experience and practice have demonstrated that the damage caused by any disaster can be minimized largely by careful planning, mitigation and prompt action. In this context, ICT can potentially play a pivotal role in disaster prevention, mitigation and management. ICT encompasses both traditional media (radio, television) as well as new emerging media (cell broadcasting, Internet, satellite radio, etc) all of which can play a major role in minimizing the risks of a potential or impending disaster. Before disasters strike, ICTs are used as a conduit for disseminating information on an impending danger, thereby making it possible to take the necessary precautions to mitigate the impact of these disasters. Hence, it is crucial that there is consistency in the application of ICT for atrisk areas in achieving effective DRR (Wattegama, 2007).
A disaster presents a particular context for ICT use. Data need to be acquired and analysed under severe time pressure. Practically, the data users are frequently without adequate training and working under difficult circumstances. Uncertainty and ambiguity are an inherent part of the environment. A disaster may have discrete origins but its effects propagate and interact in such a way that intensifies the complexity and uncertainties. Thus, the specific communication and information processing requirements will vary with context, type, distance of disaster site, time relative to disaster onset, latency of disaster and available bandwidth (Yap, 2011).
ICT can play a significant role in highlighting risk areas, vulnerabilities and potentially affected populations by producing geographically referenced analysis. The importance of timely disaster warning in mitigating negative impacts can never be under-estimated. Though damage to property cannot be avoided, developed countries have been able to reduce loss of life due to disasters much more effectively than their counterparts in the developing world. A key reason for this is the implementation of effective disaster warning systems and evacuation procedures used by the developed countries contrary to absence of such measures in the developing world (Wattegama, 2007).
In global DRR scenario there is a growing concern for the use of ICT in effective disaster management. Consequently, studies are carried in respect to typical requirements of developing countries for drawing findings on several ICT tools for emergency management (ICT4E). In this regard, a study was carried out in 2007 by the Disaster Resource Network to examine the factors contributing to effective ICT use in DRR. Also in 2007 the US National Research Council’s Committee on Using ICT to Enhance Disaster Management identified areas of ICT capabilities necessary for improving ICT use. The EU ICT Strategy for Disaster Mitigation also listed few key elements for enhancement in use of ICT. In 2010, a post-Haiti earthquake meeting of technology and development experts identified opportunities facing ICT use in disaster response (Yap, 2011). Due importance of the new era in digital domain highlighting change in the trend was fully explored in IFRC’s World Disasters Report 2013 with a focus on technology and the future of humanitarian action The UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, a public–private partnership, is currently championing high-speed connectivity and through it, access to a set of transformative technologies (IFRC Annual Report, 2013).
Advancement in ICT in the form of Internet, GIS, Remote Sensing and satellite-based communication links can help a great deal in planning and implementation of DRR measures. These technologies have been playing a major role in designing early warning systems, catalysing the process of preparedness, response and mitigation. ICT tools are also being widely used to build knowledge warehouses using internet and data warehousing techniques. These knowledge warehouses can facilitate planning & policy decisions for preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation at all levels. Similarly, GIS-based systems improve the quality of analysis of hazard vulnerability and capacity assessments, guide development planning and assist planners in the selection of mitigation measures. Communication systems have also become indispensable for providing emergency communication and timely relief and response measures (Yap, 2011).
ICT in Disaster Risk Mitigation, Prevention and Preparedness
ICT can be used to minimize the impact of disasters in many ways. In disaster mitigation and preparedness process, ICT is widely used to create early warning systems (EWS). A EWS may use more than one ICT tool in parallel and these can be either traditional (radio, television, telephone) or modern (SMS, cell broadcasting, Internet). Media plays an important role in disseminating timely disaster information.
EWS, television and radio broadcasting, web portals, long-distance education and telecommunications have a significant role in disaster mitigation. Despite essentiality of ICT in disaster management it should also not be taken as panacea for all ills. ICT, like any other tool, can deliver its best force multiplier effect when other necessary ingredients are in place simultaneously (Munodawafa, 2008).
The emergence of new technology and scientific knowledge provides opportunities to increase the lead times of predictions of natural hazards. It also ensures the availability and accuracy of user-friendly data to help countries and communities especially the most vulnerable. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) coordinates a global network of the national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHSs) of its 191 members with more than fifty thousand weather reports and several thousand charts and digital products, which are disseminated every day through the system (URL 17). The network is comprised of three interlinked operational components:
- Global Integrated Observing System: Collects data from 17 satellites, hundreds of ocean buoys, thousands of aircrafts and ships and nearly ten thousand land-based stations.
- Global Telecommunication System (GTS): A dedicated network of surface and satellite-based telecommunication links and centres operated round the clock throughout the year.
- Global Data Processing and Forecasting System: A network of nearly 50 global and regional specialized meteorological centres that provides analysis, bulletins and related information.
Early Warning Systems (EWS)
Disaster warning is indeed a system, not a singular technology. It consist the identification, detection and risk assessment of the hazard, the accurate identification of the vulnerability of a population at risk. Finally, the communication of information about the threat to the vulnerable population is essential in sufficient time and clarity so that they can take action to avert negative consequences. This final component underscores the importance of education and creating awareness in the population so that they may respond with the appropriate actions. Effective disaster management relies on thorough integration of emergency plans at all levels of government and non-government involvement. Activities at each level (individual, group, community) affect the other levels (UN-APCICT, 2007).
EWS is used to assist preparedness for the prevention of disasters, thus timing of such warnings is very important. EWS has four separate but interlinked elements as follows (ITU, 2015):
- Risk knowledge.
- Technical monitoring and warning service.
- Dissemination and communication of warnings.
- Response capability and preparedness to act (by authorities and by those at risk).
Timely and Effective Delivery of Early Warnings to the ‘Last Mile’
‘Last mile’ is the term used to express the sentiment that warnings and the means to respond to them often do not reach those who need it the most, which was described by Nonita T. Yap in his study. He also viewed, people who for reasons of age, gender, culture or poverty are not reached by disaster preparedness and thus remain in the weakest link in the communication chain resulting many casualties.
People-centred approaches to EWS are predicated on the assumption that people can be capable, resilient and able to protect themselves given accurate, timely, consistent and actionable information from a trusted source. Such approaches require that individuals and communities at risk, particularly those at the ‘last mile’, understand the threats to their lives and property, share this awareness with others, and are able to take action to avoid or reduce their exposure (Yap, 2011).
ICT Channels Used for Disaster Risk Reduction
The different digital technologies and their use to reduce disaster risks are briefly highlighted below. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of ICTs but provide highlights of some key ICTs that have proved indispensable to DRR. Some may be more effective than the rest, depending on the nature of the disaster, the regions affected and socio-economic status of the affected communities.
Terrestrial Radio and Television
Radio and television remain the traditional media used in disaster management, because they are relatively cheap, provide a reliable one-to-many communication medium and most importantly, do not require literacy. Radio in particular is the most accessible medium to the poor, especially women in their homes, or fishermen at sea, workers out in the fields. They can be used to spread a warning quickly to a broad population. The only possible drawback of these two media is that their effectiveness is significantly reduced at night, when they are normally switched off. However, in the poorest communities, even battery-powered radio still remains a luxury (UN-APCICT, 2010).
A target set by world leaders at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) (URL 18) that more than half the world’s population should have access to ICTs has been reached seven years ahead of schedule (URL 19). Details of post-2015 ICT indicators target list is given at annex A. Mobile technology is probably the most rapidly expanding technology in terms of the speed of expansion and reach to the unconnected. The technology is mostly based on voice and short message service (SMS). But with the rapid growth in mobile phone usage, more sophisticated mobile services are being introduced. The extensive use of mobile phones in some countries has prompted humanitarian organizations to explore their extensive usage for DRR, in particular for early warning (UN-APCICT, 2010).
Providing Emergency Communication Means
When a disaster strikes, there are a handful of organizations that are ready to provide assistance. In providing emergency communication ITU for instance, deploys mobile satellite terminals and various other communications equipment to help restore vital communication links for the coordination of relief operations. This is part of the ITU Framework for Cooperation in Emergencies that has benefited from the contribution of funds and equipment from its partners – FedEx, ICO Global Communications, Inmarsat, Iridium, TerreStar Global, Thuraya and Vizada (UNAPCICT, 2010).
Telecoms Sans Frontiers (TSF) that is involved in the provision of communications to UN agencies and humanitarian organizations to coordinate emergency relief, and in providing those affected by the disaster a free phone call.
Recently, TSF has also been working with various countries in strengthening their capacities to respond to disasters through training and by expanding the ICT infrastructure. Most data needed in a disaster are geospatial. The first questions typically asked are related to the location of the disaster event. In this context, there are a number of information systems and communication solutions for response and recovery being developed and continually improved upon. Examples of systems developed in Asia include DUMBO, OpenCARE and Sahana (UN-APCICT, 2010).
WFP has partnered with Vodafone Foundation and United Nations Foundation to set up an ICT Humanitarian Emergency Platform to increase the efficiency and coordination of emergency communication by optimizing and standardizing ICT solutions in emergencies, organizing training programmes on the use of ICTs in disaster preparedness and response to expand the pool of trained ICT experts, (URL 29) establishing a network of stand-by partners ready for deployment, and enabling immediate dispatch of ICT emergency responders (WFP, 2015).
Use of Internet in the Aftermath of Disaster
On 17 August 1999, a major earthquake caught people off guard in Izmit, Turkey, resulting in 15,000 deaths. During the Izmit earthquake, telecommunications infrastructure was so extensively damaged that it was impossible to access emergency services. The use of public phones was almost impossible, while mobile phone networks were operating with reduced bandwidth. In addition, many of the microwave repeaters mounted on apartment buildings had been damaged during the quake. In this situation, Internet was the only possible medium that could connect the affected areas to the outside world. Several Internet applications were used in the post-disaster response, mainly in two key areas: coordination of aid disbursement and finding information about missing people (UN-APCICT, 2007).
Due to system disruption, donors often found them acting as the distributors of aid as well, thus, the internet proved a valuable resource. The importance of information security and privacy can never be underestimated in ICT-based humanitarian systems. In these cases, data privacy is not just a matter of encryption; it can also be a matter of life and death. More recently, with the growing popularity of
Web 2.0 tools, they have been used as a mechanism for the coordination of response and recovery initiatives. Hundreds of blogs emerged in the first few days following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. These were used for providing instantaneous situation reports, information sharing, locating missing persons and fund raising. (UN-APCICT, 2007) (URL 30).
Tracing Missing Persons
After a disaster onset, there are often a large number of individuals missing. It is common to find families scattered and children separated from their parents. Outside relatives and friends, especially those living overseas, naturally want to know the latest information about the condition of their loved ones. The psychological strain on children can be severe and it is essential that they be reunited with their families as soon as possible.
Sahana, free and open source software (FOSS)-based system developed by Lanka Software Foundation after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, is a suite of webbased applications that provides solutions to such problems arising in a post-disaster situation. Sahana is a popular web-based disaster management application for tracking missing people and coordinating relief and recovery efforts of different agencies, including the matching of pledges of aid to requests from the field and the management of camps. Sahana is a FOSS application, which means all users can use, copy, distribute and modify the software without having to seek permission for a license (UN-APCICT, 2010).
ICT in Disaster Recovery Enhancement
Disaster reconstruction has to start as soon as the initial disaster clean-up has taken place. This is a very complex endeavour, requiring a huge array of skill sets and a thorough knowledge of an ever-increasing variety of techniques and equipment. A range of software tools are being used for these purposes. Thus, while the role of ICT in the long-term disaster recovery process is not as apparent as it is in disaster warning, there is no doubt that ICT is being used widely to expedite these activities (URL 31).
Even in a developed country like Japan- due to the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami; although the telecommunications infrastructure was severely impacted the damages affected fewer households than the damages to other utilities such as power and water supply and the recovery time was shorter than for these services.
Thus, it is important that the telecommunications infrastructure is more resilient than other utility infrastructures as ICT is used both to support these other services and is critical in the overall recovery process (ITU, 2015).
Specific Disaster Management Software
Different types of software tools are being used to gather, store and analyse data related to disasters, not only in post-disaster conditions, but also as a long-term measure to mitigate the risk of the disasters. One such approach is known as DesInventar. It is a methodical way to gather and store information about characteristics and effects of different types of disasters, particularly the ones not visible from global or national scales. This allows for the observation and analysis of accumulated data regarding these ‘invisible’ disasters at a global or national scale (URL 32)
The DesInventar system can also be used to simulate disasters and study their impact. For example, it is possible to trigger an earthquake in the virtual environment and analyse its impact on a geographical area ranging from a municipality to a group of countries. The system forecasts information on the possible loss of human lives, impact on the economy and damage to infrastructure, etc. DesInventar is also a tool that facilitates the analysis of disaster-related information for applications in planning, risk mitigation and disaster recovery purposes. It can be used not just by government agencies, but by NGOs as well in their DRR effort. Apart from the specific software applications, there are many international and regional organizations that use ICT effectively in the disaster management process (Wattegama, 2007).
Disaster Information Networks
A disaster is an event that has terrible consequences. Today, disasters appear all over the media and they fascinate many people. In the past, disasters were a major source for myths and legends. Unlike accidents, disasters have resulted in new kind of thinking on ways to implement to avoid or to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. New principles of precaution and prevention are created all the time, affecting also legal constraints (URL 31).
Presently, number of Disaster Information Networks is working in the Global, Regional and National context. Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN), International Disaster Information Network (IDIN), Wide area Disaster information Network (WDN), ReliefWeb, Caribbean Disaster Information Network (CARDIN), ASEAN Disaster Information network (ADINet) are few of them (URL 32).
GIS Application in Disaster Recovery
In addition to its usage during the prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response phases of disaster management, GIS can also play a role in disaster recovery, in both the immediate and long-term phases.
In the aftermath of any disaster, it is essential to restore vital services and systems. This may include providing temporary food, water and shelter to those who have lost homes in the disaster. Medical services are needed for those who are injured. GIS can play several roles in this process. It can identify the damage and begin to establish priorities for action. GIS can also ensure uniformity in the distribution of supplies (medicine, food, water, clothing, etc.) to emergency distribution centres. They can be assigned in proper amounts based on the extent and type of damage in each area (Wattegama, 2007).
Earth observation satellites could also be used in emergency situations where on-the-ground resources are often not available. Satellites can provide data rapidly when there are earthquakes, landslides, floods and other natural disasters that often prevent assessment by ground or aerial services. They also provide accurate global coverage and operability no matter what the weather or conditions are on the ground. They can also be used for a large number of activities during their lifetime (Yap, 2011).
Long Term Application
Long-term recovery is to restore all services to normal or better than they were prior to the disaster. It involves replacement of homes, water systems, streets, hospitals, bridges, schools, etc. and returning life to normal. This can take several years. GIS tools can be used to track the progress of these activities. It is also possible to prioritize restoration investments with the help of GIS. A GIS can ease the burden of accounting for recovery activities (Wattegama, 2007).
For example, December 26, 2004, ushered in the largest natural disaster in recent history. A magnitude 9.1 earthquake and resulting tsunami brought incredible devastation to many countries in Southeast Asia. Apart from providing informative topographic maps to coordinate relief efforts, GIS was extensively used in specific sectors during the initial response to the disaster including the following (ESRI, 2014):
- GIS was to create an accurate picture of the damage and prioritize need. Activities were coordinated thus field hospitals and mobile health clinics were set up in the places they were needed.
- Mobile Resource Planning. GIS was used to plan movement of trucks and prioritize shipments.
- GIS was used to identify risk areas and develop management plans to deal with infrastructure related issues.
- GIS was seen as a crucial tool to assist coordination among the various agencies to focus their resources on coordinating activities including spatial planning, village mapping, community planning, engineering design, and house building. Recovery programs were focused on rebuilding houses and infrastructure and restoring livelihoods.
- GIS was used to discover where best to build, or not build, new schools based on population analysis and proximity to health facilities.
Availability of ICT Tools and Usage Pattern
The use of ICTs is conceived as an “enabling” factor for facilitating and streamlining institutional processes toward improving public service delivery to the excluded. In short, this process is coined as ICT for development (ICT4D) where ICT is perceived to have the potential to boost economic, social and political development, contributing toward the progress of humankind as a whole. ICTs can expand the capacity of the poor by empowering them to enjoy their right to freedom of expression in the decision-making process, alongside ensuring their participation in the opportunities brought about by economic growth. Bangladesh government has put in place a number of laws, policies and strategies to put in action the Digital Bangladesh vision. The ICT Policy 2009, ICT Act 2009 and the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2009 have laid the foundations for identifying the Digital Bangladesh priorities for the government (IGS 2010). In 2010, the government approved the Digital Bangladesh Strategy and the amended Telecommunication Act 2010 (BBS, 2013).
Major Drawbacks of ICT in Disaster Scenario
Telecommunication coverage in Bangladesh is quite satisfactory and national organ BTCL has also very good communication infrastructure, but as of now, they cannot readily be used effectively for disaster management purposes. The underlying factor is the lack of system integration, which is an essential requirement for developing a robust emergency telecommunication system. Furthermore, some of the essential services for an emergency telecommunication system are not also having same protocol to be used as enhanced ICT tool for effective DRR.
Limitations in Emergency Telecommunication Services
Although a good telecommunication infrastructure is in place in Bangladesh, there is yet no comprehensive well-defined system in the country to designate the institutions and their responsibilities for emergency communication in a post-disaster situation. There is a disaster management plan embodied in the Standing Orders on Disasters, but the aspect on emergency telecommunication is not clearly defined. For private telecommunication operators, there is also a disaster contingency plan, but this has not yet been institutionalized. Among government agencies, only the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) and the Police have dedicated communication facilities for emergency purposes. Existing VHF radios for disseminating cyclone warnings to the community level by CPP has been so far very effective due to its good maintenance and training of radio operators. CPP is jointly managed by the Government of Bangladesh and Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. CPP has an extensive HF and VHF radio network in the coastal areas of Bangladesh that is linked to its headquarters in Dhaka (UNAPCICT, 2010).
Physical Damage of Communication Infrastructure
In the immediate aftermath of disasters, existing emergency telecommunication services might be adversely affected due to physical damage of such infrastructures. For example, in 2004, flood water entered the cable ducts, affecting the communication cables in many districts. Almost 108 km of optical fibre cable link between Dhaka and Chittagong was damaged. Similarly, associated strong wind from cyclones usually disrupts telecommunication links. In the April 1991 cyclone, national and international telecommunication networks were interrupted due to the collapse of a vital microwave tower at the port city of Chittagong and
Bangladesh was cut off from the rest of the world for several days. Similar situations cannot be ruled out in case of an earthquake event in Bangladesh (UNAPCICT, 2010).
Power Failure Causing Non-functionality of ICT Tools
The loss of the power supply is one of the main factors preventing the use of ICT equipment and causing the interruption of services during a disaster. The cause may be severed power lines, damaged or destroyed generators, insufficient fuel for emergency generators or lack of spare batteries. It is clear that locating equipment where it is least exposed to risk can reduce infrastructure damage. A steady power supply and power generation equipment should be located at a place where it is least exposed to potential damage from a disaster. Disasters related to water, including flooding and tsunami, may cause significant damage to power supply systems. The equipment should be installed at a higher location on land or in a building where the risk of flooding is reduced. The use of multiple electrical distribution routes is ecommended and aerial facilities should be avoided (ITU, 2015).
During disaster events, one of the most common problems for the telecommunication operators (both public and private) and ICT tools user is power failure, which hampers the delivery of services and disruption of communication.
Most mobile phone operators have limited power back-ups (6-10 hours), especially in remote areas. Though some of the mobile phone operators have generators but experience shows that supplying fuel at the time of disaster and moreover to remote areas is logistically difficult. Thus an autonomous power supply is critical and there should be sufficient fuel for back-up generators as power outages can be lengthy.
Equipment should be installed in buildings in higher locations where the risk of flooding is reduced and basements should be avoided as sites for equipment and reserve generators (UNAPCICT, 2010).
Communication Difficulty Due to Oversubscription
Heavily damaged or destroyed communication networks due to disaster will lead to a complete communication blackout in the affected areas. Even if part of the existing communication system is operational, they may quickly become oversubscribed by increasing traffic volume at the time of the disaster, making communication difficult. Generally, government agencies work independently in an emergency situation, depending on the type of disaster they need to deal with. Most of the agencies’ services are restricted to disseminating early warnings. For post-disaster operations, lack of an independent, dedicated and robust communication line for ensuring uninterrupted communication among the operation centres, rescue and relief units as well as all the line agencies make the situation more difficult. Thus, for effective disaster management, an integrated system is indispensable, both in terms of communication channels as well as involving diverse groups of stakeholders (UNAPCICT, 2010).
The network generally reaches its limit only when an extensive number of media and VIP visitors arrive in the area, significantly raising the traffic volume. Relatively quick and numerous deployment of mobile GSM infrastructure may solve that problem “just in time”. Lack of coordination among the agencies again causes the delayed operation of such events. Therefore, with the availability of a well-organized interagency radio communication network can solve such problem in an efficient manner (ITU, 2015).
ICT Capacity Deficits
Meteorological data, forecasts and analyses are often inaccessible or incomprehensible to those who need the information most because of lack of the necessary skills to interpret, process and integrate the data. ICT skills development has been the goal of ICT for development projects which have proliferated in the last 15 years. Relatively few are deemed successful or sustainable. Many reasons are cited for the failure but lack of local capacities, such as skills, is a repeating element.
Such capacities can often be quite basic. For example, it is interesting to note that most of the ICT documents reviewed for this dissertation focus on cost as the major issue and market-friendly policy instruments as the solution to the digital divide. On the contrary hardly there is any mention of illiteracy as a significant barrier to access, and basic education as a necessary policy response to this barrier. Yet the digital divide affecting ICT usage in disaster management is partly a literacy divide (Yap, 2011).
ICT tools show great potential for DRR in the areas of communication, coordination, visualization, and risk analysis, early warning and enhanced response. Many tools, such as Google Maps and Twitter are available for free and do not require ICT specialists to support them. Web resources like EOC is available and has the ability to automate dispatching processes in hazard response situations. ICT tools are also available to be used to predict and model flooding impacts before and during storm situations. Together, these ICT tools provide new capabilities that have never before available to agencies involved in DRR. In day-to-day, non-disaster situations, these tools can be used in planning and developing risk reduction strategies. When a hazard strikes, they can help to manage the wave of information that arrives at a disaster management office in immediate, post-impact instances, which is identified as the most critical time for effective ICT performance (ESCAP, 2009).
The “Digital Divide” is defined as the gap between those with regular, effective access and ability to use digital technologies and those without. Indeed, as impressive as the number may seem in global context, 6.8 billion mobile phone subscriptions and more than 2 billion mobile broadband internet subscriptions (ITU, 2013); but ground reality is more often than not one of information poverty, limited mobile phone coverage and little or no access to internet for both humanitarians and communities at risk. There is no doubt that the prevalence of mobile phones is rapidly growing, but the numbers include inactive connections and multiple connections per user, so that the real number of mobile users worldwide was estimated at 3.2 billion in 2012 or less than half the 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions (IFRC WDR, 2013).
In the same note, digital divide also exists in Bangladesh between urban and rural population. Still a distinct gap exists between the urban and rural population in terms of ICT usage also in rich and poor in the community. Since rich people can have access to up-to-date ICT facilities, digital divide always exists between rich and poor. Poor people hardly can afford high cost of modern ICT equipment. While Bangladesh has made significant inroads to poverty alleviation, the overall incidence of poverty remains still high with considerable population below the poverty level. It is imperative for Bangladesh to take effective steps to bridge the digital divide and ensure ICT facilities at the grass route level of the community. Recently as government pledged to convert Bangladesh into ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by 2021 which is the golden jubilee year of the independence of Bangladesh, several initiatives have been taken to overcome the digital divide and to produce future qualified generations (URL 56 & 57).
Based on the current status of the digital divide, latest and emerging technologies, and ICT for DRR initiatives in Bangladesh this dissertation concludes that the country still face some difficulties in terms of implementation of ICT initiatives, introducing ICT access and assessing the ICT access need of community with special reference to natural disaster management.
Access to and use of ICT by vulnerable populations with special needs, such as people with disabilities and illiterate populations need to be carefully catered. The important impact that ICT can have for such populations in improving their livelihood in the face of natural disaster has been well documented. To be effective, however, it is important that people with little or no formal education can easily use the interface and navigate the content provided.
While proposing ICT implementation, geographical features of Bangladesh may be one of the most important factors. From coastal regions to mountainous terrains, jungles and vast flat lands, the country is blessed with vast geographic diversity and natural endowment. These varied geographic conditions have placed hindrances to achieve social and economic development, and created income gaps and the digital divide between people living in urban and remote areas. Moreover, recent developments in wireless and mobile technologies have opened up new possibilities of allowing the un-connected and under-serviced community to access ICT at a faster rate with lower costs than with the traditional methods.
Furthermore, the latest satellite technology promises to connect any place around the world. Therefore, selecting and combining technologies is the key solution to expand and sustain the last mile connectivity. From the end users’ perspective, raising public awareness and creating demand are important factors to determine the sustainability of ICT initiatives.
This dissertation recommends for holistic and comprehensive ICT implementation approaches in adopting appropriate technologies and maximizing the benefits of existing infrastructure and initiatives as well as raising public awareness regarding use of ICT tools for effective DRR. In this regard, following considerations are recommended from this study:
- Effort for reducing the digital divide between urban and rural areas need to be given high priority in the context of DRR where the urban/rural dimension of the digital divide is more pronounced in poorer communities. Moreover, it is essential to continue monitoring the urban/rural character of the digital divide in order to gradually close it.
- Intermediate ICT services may be useful in Bangladesh in areas where illiteracy is prevalent. This can take different forms, such as community access centres that are operated by a facilitator or mobile help services for people with low literacy.
- In order to share experiences, challenges and good practices in common among developing countries in the context of ICT for enhancing DRR, regional cooperation should be further encouraged or strengthened.
- Since development agencies have recognized the importance of ICT in economic and social development and striving for the effectiveness of ICT in accelerating DRR, the provisioning of ICT services need to be built into development strategies with fullest effort.
It is essential to identify what is urgently needed by end users and which mode of access will be suitable for the people to fill the last mile gap along with the technological considerations. Cost effective and socio-economically beneficial ICT applications contribute to reduce the social divide and improve quality of life through enhanced access to DRR, sustainable development and other benefits of ICT. Therefore, providing access to information and ICT services should remain a high priority in Bangladesh in the context of effective DRR for the community.
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