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natural disasters

Data responsibility: a new social good for the information age

Stefaan Verhulst's picture

As climate change intensifies, catastrophic, record-setting natural disasters look increasingly like the “new normal” – from Hurricane Matthew killing at least 1,300 people in September to Typhoon Lionrock, the previous month, causing flooding that left 138 dead and more than 100,000 homeless in North Korea.

What steps can we take to limit the destruction caused by natural disasters? One possible answer is using data to improve relief operations.

Let’s look at the aftermath of the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake, the worst to hit Nepal in over 80 years. Nearly 9,000 people were killed, some 22,000 injured, hundreds of thousands were rendered homeless and entire villages were flattened.

Yet for all the destruction, the toll could have been far worse.

Without in any way minimising the horrible disaster that hit Nepal that day, I want to make the case that data — and, in particular, a new type of social responsibility — helped Nepal avoid a worse calamity. It may offer lessons for other disasters around the world.

In the wake of the Nepal disaster, a wide variety of actors – from government, civil society and the private sector alike – rushed in to address the humanitarian crisis. One notable player was Ncell, Nepal’s largest mobile network operator. Shortly after the earthquake, Ncell decided to share its mobile data (in an aggregated, de-identified way) with the the non-profit Swedish organisation, Flowminder.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

A Lesson from Latin America: Media Reform Needs People Power
CIMA

Policy reform in favor of more plural and independent media is possible when global networks collaborate with national activists. This is the important lesson gleaned from a series of examples in Latin America that are the subject of a new book that I co-authored with Maria Soledad Segura titled Media Movements: Civil Society and Policy Reform in Latin America (Zed/U of Chicago Press). Washington, DC, is home to many global actors committed to supporting freedom of information, fighting oppressive libel laws and promoting plural media ownership—among other key elements to a vibrant and free media. The key lesson for them is that they are unlikely to succeed alone. In fact, we did not find any examples of rapid and sustainable changes single-handedly driven by global programs. Instead, we found success stories where global actors worked patiently and diligently with local activities, building awareness and strong coalitions on the ground that could act when opportune conditions or political junctures arose.

Why Cities Are the Future for Farming
National Geographic

The landscape of our food future appears bleak, if not apocalyptic. Humanity’s impact on the environment has become undeniable and will continue to manifest itself in ways already familiar to us, except on a grander scale. In a warmer world, heavier floods, more intense droughts, and unpredictable, violent, and increasingly frequent storms could become a new normal. Little wonder that the theme for this year's World Food Day, which happens on Sunday, is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” The need for an agricultural sea change was also tackled at the recent South by South Lawn, President Obama’s festival of art, ideas, and action (inspired by the innovative drive of Austin’s SXSW), where I was honored to present.
 

Parts of the aid system just don’t work – the dismal cycle of humanitarian response

Duncan Green's picture

Every now and then an email stops me in my tracks, reminding me that Oxfam is stuffed full of bright, motivated, altruistic people. Here’s one I got a few weeks ago from Debbie Hillier, one of our Humanitarian Policy Advisers, in response to my request for thoughts on the state of the aid business. Her views are fleshed out in ‘A Preventable Crisis’, a new report published this week:
 

"Hi Duncan,

Here is a current example of how the aid system doesn’t work.

El Niño events and other droughts are forecast months in advance.  There is of course some uncertainty in the forecasts, but nonetheless, there is often a high probability of a natural hazard.  And with major droughts/El Niño/La Niña, these can affect many millions of people.

So there are situations of high probability and high impact – like the current El Niño.  And these are situations where we know what the solutions are. There are far fewer complicating political factors than in conflict – we know what to do.

If this was the private sector, there would be a significant response at this point. However the aid system does not work like this.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 
How disasters drive displacement – and what should be done about it
IRIN News
The risk of people being displaced by natural disasters has quadrupled in the last 40 years and, unless governments adopt national and global plans to address the main drivers of displacement, increasing numbers of people will lose their homes to floods, earthquakes and landslides in the future. This is the main message of a report released on Thursday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) ahead of the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction due to take place in Sendai, Japan in the coming days. UN member states are expected to adopt a global plan to reduce disaster risk that will build on the Hyogo Framework for Action adopted 10 years ago.  The Hyogo Framework addressed disaster risk reduction but not the risk of being displaced by a disaster..

6 Ways Technology Is Breaking Barriers To Social Change
FastCompany
We all know that technology is changing the world from artificial intelligence to big data to the ubiquity of smart phones, but many of us working to change society are just starting to understand how to harness tech forces for good. The stakes are high: Some 2 billion people continue to live on less than $2 a day. Millions of women and girls around the world lack basic human rights. Forty percent of children in U.S. urban school districts fail to graduate. A slew of initiatives address these and other intractable social issues, yet often, even the most successful ones only address a fraction of the problem.

Innovations for Development: 2013 Wish List

Maya Brahmam's picture

A recent Poverty Matters blog post in the Guardian noted that mobile technologies and social media are creating cheap ways for citizens to interact with their governments and that development projects are trying to tap into these technologies. It gave a plug to the Bank’s new Open Finances mobile app that lets users find and monitor bank-funded projects near where they live, using mapping and GPS technology.

With the advent of the New Year and given the on-going work in the Bank on the open agenda, here are three things we may accomplish in 2013:

The Story of Resilience

Maya Brahmam's picture

In less than 3 weeks, TEDxSendai will bring together an interesting group of thinkers and doers to focus on the theme of natural disasters.

Moderated by Toshi Nakamura, Co-founder and CEO of Kopernik, a technology marketplace for the developing world, TEDxSendai will explore this theme from the lens of a survivor, a historian and gender specialist, a CEO with a supply chain, an innovator of  new technologies, a doctor working on emergency evacuation, a classical pianist who plays on a piano that survived the tsunami, a global expert in sustainable development, a specialist in reconstruction, and an inventor of engineering prototypes.

Two sessions -- Cherry Blossom Indomitable in the Aftermath and The Bouncing Ball: Building Resilience – will pull the varied strands of these different perspectives together and share ideas about disasters –recovery, resilience and hope.

Media Coverage and Funding for Disasters

Maya Brahmam's picture

During the latest round of the global Development Data Challenge held in London at the end of August, various members of the open data community got together at the Guardian to explore the limits of recently released aid and government spending data. One of the challenges proposed was to explore whether media coverage influenced funding for disasters.

This is interesting, not only because a fair amount of research has been done on the topic, but also because popular wisdom supports the idea that media coverage spurs disaster funding – the so-called "CNN effect."

Avoiding Disaster After the Disaster

Paul Mitchell's picture

If the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami off Indonesia in 2004 have shown us anything it is that large scale natural catastrophes are not rare. Calamities that claim tens of thousands of lives happen with regularity (about every four years on average). Many others claim a smaller number of lives but are equally devastating to local communities. The claims that these disasters are unique “100 year events”, which cannot be predicated and therefore cannot be planned for, are increasingly hollow.

Natural Disasters: What Role for Information and Communication?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Photo Credit: Flickr user Sarvodaya.orgIn the wake of the massive and horrific natural disasters in Myanmar and China, it is important to examine how the provision of humanitarian relief relates to issues of voice and accountability. In a general sense, communication should be an absolutely vital element of any relief effort.