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Emergency response in the Whatsapp era!

Deepak Malik's picture
Cyclone Hudhud.  Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
On October 12, 2014, Cyclone Hudhud, a category 4 cyclone with wind speeds exceeding 220 km/hour bore down on to the city of Vishakhapatnam in the state of Andhra Pradesh on the eastern coast of India. The city, with a population of over 1.8 million people and neighboring districts suffered massive devastation. The World Bank’s South Asia Disaster Risk Management team jointly undertook a post-disaster damage and needs assessment with a team from the Asian Development Bank and with the Government of Andhra Pradesh with the support of Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).

 
Whatsapp Messages
Whatsapp to help restore connectivity. 
During field visits, the assessment team interacted extensively with the community and local government officials.  The one story that seemed to resonate consistently was the efficiency in clearing roads blocked by fallen trees and debris to make sure connectivity was restored at the earliest. Following any major disaster, such as cyclone Hudhud, restoring connectivity is amongst the most challenging and critical activities. Restoring connectivity allows for more efficient flow of much-needed emergency relief, medical supplies and helps foster early recovery. We decided to dig deeper to find out what had been done differently here.
 
One evening, while returning from a field visit to Srikakulam district, we posed this question to Mr. V. Ramachandra, Superintendent Engineer of Public Works Department (PWD), what had been done differently. Mr. V. Ramachandra’s face lit up and he pulled out his smart phone. He showed us a “closed group” that the PWD engineers had created on Whatsapp.  For the first three days after cyclone Hudhud, there was no electricity and no mobile connectivity. As the connections were restored, the PWD closed group became functional and that acted as the main tool of communication for information sharing. For any breach of road, the Engineers shared information through the Whatsapp group with a clear location and a short explanation of the problem. The person responsible for the area responded with a message stating how long it would take to clear the block. Even requests for tools and JCBs were made on the group. This helped identify and access required resources. The action taken was narrated on the group discussion page once the problem was solved. An updated photo showing restored road connectivity was uploaded to the group.

No meetings and no discussions at the district headquarter level had to be organized. The District Magistrate joined the group and gave instruction to the department through the closed Whatsapp group. Most roads were functional within three to four days. The whole department worked to provide its services through a messaging system, without any meetings and formal orders.

Social media has become a part of our daily lives and is a very powerful tool for emergency management if used properly. Social media and pre-designed apps are effective when written reports and formal meetings are not required. It is important to learn from such experiences and institutionalize them for effective and efficient use during periods of early recovery and emergency response.

Unlocking climate finance for more renewable energy in South Asia

Keisuke Iyadomi's picture
Indian woman cleaning up solar panels in the province of Orissa, India
Indian woman cleaning up solar panels in the province of Odisha, India. 
Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos Pictures / Department for International Development

With only 43% of its households with access to electricity, Odisha’s economic development lags behind that of other states in India. However, it is home to rich water reserves, wildlife, forest, minerals, and renewable energy sources, which together can help boost the state’s economy.
 
Let’s take the example of solar energy.
 
In recent years, Odisha and its international partners have set out to boost the development of renewable energy in the state and now aim to identify and scale up potential solar power sites.  
 
Yet, challenges remain.
 
Despite 300 clear sunny days every year representing a huge solar potential (Odisha receives an average solar radiation of 5.5 kWh/ Sq. m area), only 1.29 percent of Odisha’s total energy capacity stems from renewable sources.
 
Considering that Odisha is planning to increase its solar capacity from 31.5 Megawatts (MW) to 2,300 MW in the next five years, the state must step up its efforts and enact relevant policies to meet its solar energy goals. This, in turn, could benefit local businesses and spur economic growth.
 

Bangladesh – The Most Climate Vulnerable Country

Arastoo Khan's picture

On a Path Towards Climate Resilience

Two recent key reports ­– The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's ‘Fifth Assessment Report' and World Bank’s ‘Turn Down the Heat’ – reveal long-term implications for Bangladesh and its people from probable catastrophic impacts of climate change. Both paint a very dismal scenario of the future as climate change continues to take its toll. The earth faces a temperature rise of at least 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels requiring firm and coordinated action to benefit all countries.
 
This was not the only bad news. The recently released sixth annual Climate Change Vulnerability Index, (Maplecroft) revealed that Bangladesh would feel the economic impacts of climate change most intensely and that our capital Dhaka would be one of the five most climate vulnerable cities in the world.

Having seen the impacts of climate change in our lifetime across agro-climactic zones in Bangladesh, our Government had prudently initiated a series of policies and actions for a climate resilient economy. The strategy is simple – to make livelihoods of the poorest/vulnerable populations climate resilient, so that the national economy is insulated from climate change and becomes a foundation to vigorously pursue sustainable development.

Never Again! The Story of Cyclone Phailin

Saurabh Dani's picture

I have been visiting coastal Odisha for the past four years, earlier when we were preparing the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP) and subsequently during project implementation.
 
Every time the project team visited a village, the local community was always there to welcome us and talk about their experience during the 1999 cyclone, the community members they lost, the houses damaged, the devastation inflicted. This was an event that was firmly etched in their memories even 10 years later. Every site visit was followed by a small function wherein the local community mobilizing volunteers spoke about the preparedness work they were undertaking in collaboration with the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) and local community organizations. Almost every single meeting ended in their spoken resolve “Never Again!”

Uplifting Flood-Affected Lives in Pakistan

South Asia's picture

 

For the first time ever, more than one million households ravaged by the devastating floods of 2010 are being uplifted through a unique cash transfer approach in Pakistan, employing innovative use of payment technology, control and accountability mechanisms, making it possible to give back to the flood-affected families their right to life!

“The Green Will Double our Happiness”

Naomi Ahmad's picture

Farmers in Bangladesh adapting to increased soil salinity and climate change.

Barguna is at the very southern end of Bangladesh and looks nothing like the rest of the country.

Bangladesh is very green – driving through you can see the luxuriant green rice fields stretching out endlessly, the spread interrupted only by clusters of dark trees surrounding a small village, and sometimes by the yellow patches of mustard fields. But Barguna is not green and vibrant - it has now become drab brown.

Stepping onto the soil of Barguna, one is reminded of a parched desert. The ground is rock-hard, cracked and mostly barren. I was careful, threading lightly - afraid of stepping too hard in case the ground suddenly gave away.

The district wasn’t always this desolate. But devastated by repeated cyclones, erratic weather patterns and saline intrusion along the coast, farmers in these coastal communities have seen their lands yield less and less with the passing years.

I Still Remember Cyclone Sidr…

Naomi Ahmad's picture

“I still remember Cyclone Sidr in 2007,” said Hasina Begum, Headmistress of Paschim Napitkhali Primary School in Barguna, Bangladesh.

She fell silent, her face slowly crumpling up - the shadows in her dark eyes gathering into deep pools of sadness.

“There were warnings, but nothing could really prepare us for what happened. Cyclone Sidr hit my hometown, Barguna with ferocious intensity. Powerful gusts of winds and heavy rainfalls frightened the helpless people, many of whom had left their homes and processions to seek the protection of cyclone-shelters, like my school.”

The Paschim Napitkhali Primary School, a non-descript two storied building had played a life-saving role in 2007, when Barguna and other coastal regions were hit hard by the storm surge of over 5 meters (16 ft). Initially established by Hasina’s father, the school was later rebuilt and converted into a school-cum-cyclone-shelter. During the year, the primary school bustles with children – but during cyclones and other natural disasters, the building doubles up as a shelter. In 2007, this cyclone-shelter alone had helped save more than 800 people.

Pakistan: Resilience in the Face of Adversity

South Asia's picture

Zafar is among millions of Pakistanis who do not give up hope in the face of adversity, and the harder the challenge, the more resolute they become in overcoming it. Zafar belongs to Utror, a back-of-beyond place in Pakistan’s north-west. Situated in one of the more inaccessible valleys of Swat in the Kyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the inhabitants of Utror could only dream of having electricity till Zafar, one of their own, returned home with skills of an electrician honed in Punjab where he had gone in search of education.

Bangladesh: Mapping climate change and food security

South Asia's picture

Bangladesh food security projectBangladesh can be described as “ground zero” at the intersection of climate change and food security.

The country is widely recognized as one of the places most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate, which strains food systems alongside rapidly growing and urbanizing populations. Yet, despite these dual challenges, the World Bank expects Bangladesh will meet its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.

Given the impact of the global food crisis and numerous natural disasters, how is Bangladesh managing this feat? And can we map the country’s progress?

Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

Ray Nakshabendi's picture

Disasters seemingly have become so commonplace lately that many of us have become desensitized to them. Watching disaster unfold has become like hearing a cacophony of voices on a busy street but not really listening or paying attention to your surroundings. Take a second, and think of the millions that are in need and suffering, and imagine if you were in their shoes, another person’s suffering becoming a part of your own.

In Pakistan, about a month ago a natural catastrophe took place, a disaster so massive that a fifth of the country was inundated with water affecting 20 million people, a sizeable death toll, and with long lasting implications. I joined on a volunteer mission with Dr. Ahmad Nakshabendi, who had much experience with aiding victims of the 2005 earthquake, and embarked on a mission to assist based on our expertise.

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