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Could Technology Have Helped Us Respond Better To The Floods: Salim Ghauri

Could Technology Have Helped Us Respond Better To The Floods: Salim Ghauri

Could Technology Have Helped Us Respond Better To The Floods
The Floods in Pakistan created an unprecedented situation which called for unprecedented drastic measures. During the last few weeks we have seen a lot of effort to deliver aid to the flood affectees by the Government, international agencies and most importantly private volunteers and NGO’s. However most of this effort has been uncoordinated and haphazard resulting in limited impact in relation to the scale of the disaster.
In the aftermath of large-scale natural calamities such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and with researchers and scientists claiming that global warming threatens the planet by triggering more earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc., the world is forced to wake up to the need for coordinated and collaborative harnessing of the power of ICT systems in managing natural disasters.
With continued relief efforts and emphasis on rebuilding what all has been lost in the disaster, modern technology today, can better help identify measures that can prevent or prepare us for such emergencies. In times of a disaster, everyone wants to help rebuild all that is lost or fallen, but we can harness that drive, organize and coordinate the efforts and ensure that a sophisticated system be followed so as to not let such damage occur again.
Asia tops the list of casualties due to the recent natural disasters ravaging the region; therefore, the Indian Ocean Tsunami warning system coordinated by UNESCO is currently being implemented. With coordination efforts between Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/IOTWS), the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) and Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) they send out tsunami warnings to Asian nations. Space systems from their vantage point have the capability in providing information and services for identifying danger beforehand, and mediums such as TV, Radio, cell broadcasting, internet/email, sirens, sms, etc. ensure the message is transmitted to a vast majority of people before and during the disaster.
Natural disasters are something that cannot be prevented, but with coordination and timely warning the impact of the destruction can be minimized. After the 2004 Tsunami the world saw casualties in unimaginable numbers, and as human beings, with our empathetic nature, the UN and other international aid organizations, neighboring countries and various NGO’s all dived into the situation providing any help they could give. This was repeated during the Haiti earthquake, Pakistan earthquake and now the Pakistan 2010 floods, but with all that aid and no one to coordinate how it is spent, who to be in charge of disseminating the relief and coordinating the efforts of many of these organizations, chaos and mismanagement is inevitable.
An online database for capturing information on countrywide inventory or equipment, food, skilled human resources for search and rescue, and the distribution of relief goods would be one way of tabulating and organizing all the information during a disaster. This will not only help measure the relief activities, but avoid duplication and wastage of resources.
Once the initial shock and impact of a disaster subsides, and we take the time to stand back and observe the damage, that is when the real rehabilitation work beings. By this time most relief efforts fizzle and die out, the world moves on and people tend to forget. But the country is left with rebuilding their homes, lives and help recuperate those affected by the disaster. Technology helps keep such efforts in the public eye, with the use of the internet, information sharing, fund-raising and awareness campaigns never fizzle out. It also gives us a chance to learn how to make better use of that technology, to setup a disaster management system that would conduct vulnerability analysis, educate the people on disaster prevention procedures and prepare them for other such situations.
The floods stretched across 25% of Pakistan, covering all the major provinces and leaving nearly 20 million people displaced. The sheer number of different types of groups that respond to such a disaster can be overwhelming, and coordinating their efforts, especially in developing countries not prepared for such calamities can be very complicated and difficult. But in this day and age of modern technology and advanced technical knowledge, if a system was to be designed to ease and manage the process, it would not only save many lives, but also help prevent great ruin.

With floods battering New England, Nashville, Arkansas, Oklahoma and now Pakistan, and this summer’s heat waves baking the eastern United States, parts of Africa, eastern Asia, and above all Russia, we could be seeing these global warming fears come true. Hence there is an undeniable truth that the need of the hour is effective disaster management and preparation, for a growing incidence, worldwide, of natural disasters.

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