Don’t count on technology to save you in a disaster – researchers


Newfound enthusiasm for the latest technologies, such as drones and smartphones, to improve the way aid is provided to people in disasters may be overblown, experts warned on Thursday.

The annual World Risk Report from the United Nations University (UNU) highlights the growing interest in new technologies to improve emergency response – from drones that can survey crisis-hit areas to social media networks that allow survivors to communicate with the wider world.

These can provide important information to the logisticians who organise aid delivery or health workers trying to track deadly diseases like Ebola in no-go areas, the report said.

But Matthias Garschagen, a risk management expert with the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), said it could not substitute for the basic infrastructure some countries have lacked for decades.

“Too many people see technology as the main panacea for solving all the problems you have after disasters strike,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “A lot of development experts put too much emphasis on technology.”

In Africa, for example, there are just 65 kilometres (40 miles) of paved road per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 832 km in Europe or 552 km in the Americas.

In heavy rain, dirt roads soon become impassable, which hampers the delivery of aid, the report said.

“No smartphones in the world are going to significantly change this state of affairs,” Garschagen said in the report produced with the University of Stuttgart and Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, an alliance of German aid agencies.

After the Nepal earthquakes last year, aid agencies used drones to find out the extent of damage, but their uncontrolled flying was a headache for the government, which introduced restrictions.

And in many cases, helicopters were not available to bring in aid to meet the needs identified by aerial surveillance.

Drones themselves cannot be expected to carry out aid deliveries any time soon, because they cannot carry big enough loads and their use is subject to so many rules, said Kathrin Mohr, who heads Deutsche Post DHL Group’s “GoHelp” team.

“Some suggest that drones could even carry medicine supplies to remote villages. I think this is complete nonsense,” she said in the report.

“Just realise what one of these drones can carry: Not more than one to three kilogrammes. This really is an extremely limited amount.”

Garschagen said sound infrastructure – from transport to telecoms and power networks – must be built with disaster risks in mind and properly maintained.

An early warning system, installed in Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, malfunctioned in October 2010 when a 3-metre (10 ft) wave crashed into the remote Mentawai islands, taking residents by surprise and killing several hundred people.

“Too often we think infrastructure means building a nice road, a nice bridge or a tsunami early warning system,” Garschagen said.

“But we don’t pay sufficient attention to the humans and institutions that need to be trained, educated and built around the technology in order to maintain or run it properly.”

Planners and builders of infrastructure – whether companies, governments or development banks – should also consider the risks from climate change, such as worsening floods, he added.

That is particularly so in Southeast Asia and Africa, where much essential infrastructure is not yet in place, he said.

But pressure from investors in growing cities like Lagos or Ho Chi Minh City can make it difficult to think long term, raising the risk of buildings or transport being located in disaster-prone areas.

An index ranking the risk of disasters for 171 countries, contained in the report, shows the world’s hot-spots lie in the Pacific Ocean, Southeast Asia, Central America and Africa’s southern Sahel region.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Posted 5 months ago by NDRF sourced from Thomson Reuters Foundation

Preparedness saves thousands of lives as Super Typhoon Haima sweeps across Northern Philippines

Preparedness saves thousands of lives as Super Typhoon Haima sweeps across Northern Philippines
One week after Typhoon Haima left a trail of destruction in Northern Philippines, details of the extensive damage to homes and livelihoods are starting to emerge from provinces that were previously inaccessible due to obstructed roads and flooding.

Assessments conducted by Philippine Red Cross volunteers and staff indicate that shelter and livelihoods recovery remain the most immediate needs for communities in Northern Luzon.

“During the day, all you’ll hear is the sound of chainsaws. In the evening, the sound of generators,” says Robert Guinaban, a 46-year-old Philippine Red Cross volunteer in the province of Kalinga.

While local markets in the city of Tuguegarao and the neighbouring provinces of Kalinga and Apayao have opened their marketplaces and trading centres once more, establishment owners can be seen lining up to buy gasoline-powered generators as transmission and power lines continue to be down.

One day after Super Typhoon Haima made landfall in Northern Philippines, Aileen Torres, the Philippine Red Cross Cagayan chapter administrator, found it difficult to sleep. She was worried about her family and her Red Cross colleagues. After the chapter’s experience with typhoon Megi in 2010, they didn’t want to take any chances.

“We simply couldn’t sleep,” Aileen recalls. “This chapter building is quite old, so I was quite worried it might not survive the ordeal. The winds roared so loud and you could almost feel the building shake.”

The wind and rain started picking up strength at 10:00pm, an hour before the typhoon made landfall over the province.

“I’m thankful because the chapter is sandwiched between taller buildings so the impact of the winds was not as destructive as we had thought it would be,” Aileen adds.

“But what I am most thankful for is that the number of casualties is minimal. I think what happened during Typhoon Haiyan was a big lesson for everyone.”

Earlier in the week, the Red Cross mobilized a humanitarian caravan loaded with emergency relief supplies and other equipment to the provinces of Isabela and Cagayan to aid affected families. To date, the Red Cross chapters in the typhoon-hit provinces have assisted around 8,800 people with various activities including search and rescue, hot meals, the distribution of relief items and psychosocial support.

The government pre-emptively evacuated more than 158,000 people before Haima struck the province, yet it is estimated that over 92,000 people remain in 640 evacuation centres.

In the municipality of Rizal, the main access to the town has been blocked off by a landslide that will take several days to clear. Pre-emptive evacuation the day before the typhoon hit has also saved many lives in the municipality.

“Our municipality has been affected by several typhoons in the past decade, so we knew what to expect,” says Rizal’s Vice-Mayor, Joel Ruma.

Haima is the third typhoon to hit Northern Philippines in just a span of three weeks after typhoon Meranti (Ferdie) and typhoon Sarika (Karen). While the full extent of the damage is still emerging, many residents are struggling to rebuild their lives and to repair their homes.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal for 3 million Swiss francs (3 million US dollars) to support the Philippine Red Cross in delivering assistance to 20,000 people affected by Typhoon Haima over a period of ten months.

ReliefWeb

Posted 5 months ago by NDRF sourced from ReliefWeb

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Rachel Smalley: Duff talking guff – Aleppo is our problem
You may have read Alan Duff’s column. He penned it for the New Zealand Herald.

He’s frustrated, it seems, with the way the mainstream media covers the Syrian crisis. Duff believes we’re being emotionally manipulated, particularly by television news, because we’re being shown images of dead or distressed children caught in the midst of the conflict.

In essence Duff says Aleppo is not our problem. Leave it to the Middle East to sort out, he says. It’s not our issue.

He points to that emotive image of the Syrian toddler whose body was found washed up on a beach last year and says the media was trying to pull at our heart strings by showing that image in Greece. Although it wasn’t in Greece. It was Turkey. But either or, I guess. It’s the other side of the world. Not our problem, as he says.

But Duff’s flippancy to the killing in Syria is not unusual. I’ve met quite a few Alan Duffs while reporting on the Syrian crisis.

Some attempt to find reasons or justifications not to help. It’s easier that way, isn’t it, then just saying no? It’s tidier. Emotionally tidier. It means our money stays in our pockets and we don’t open ourselves up emotionally to the suffering of others. God forbid. Move on, there’s nothing to see here.

I remember a Facebook comment posted last year on a story I’d written about a young Syrian mother. I’d met her on the Lebanese border and her situation was, well, wretched. She had a toddler and a newborn, and no money. It was winter and her tent was freezing. Her milk was drying up, and she was suffering complications from the birth. Possibly an infection. And she was in the darkest of places.

She’d lost everything in Damascus, her home, her income, her future, and she was trying to manage two children in winter in a tent, with severe post-natal depression. After I posted that story on Facebook, a New Zealand woman commented and she said “I would happily give money to this cause but 99.9% of it goes on salaries, and none of it reaches the refugees.”

I don’t know who she was, but I do remember her profile picture. She was competing in some equestrian competition somewhere, and riding a rather well-bred and expensive looking horse.

Yes, she was ignorant. But it’s more than that. She was also looking for a reason to disengage. She was looking for a reason not to care, just like Duff. It’s just that Duff says the media’s overplaying the situation, and pulling at people’s heart-strings. That’s his reasoning to look the other way. “Aleppo,” he says “is simply not our concern”.

But on that basis, then Rwanda was none of our business, either.

Nor was the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s.

Or the Holocaust.

Let’s overlook the killing of people because of their race or religion because it’s nothing to do with us. Let us enjoy Pure New Zealand and our geographical isolation and our geopolitical ignorance.

Well, I don’t want to live in Duff’s world where we shrug our shoulders at the destruction of a state and the killing of its people.

That’s not the New Zealand that I grew up in.

Aleppo, challenging as it may be, is our problem. It’s the world’s problem.