Last year a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck various parts of Nepal, leaving nearly 9,000 people dead and destroying over half a million homes. Relief and recovery efforts in affected areas went on for several months, involving multiple agencies, and the re-building continues. In March, our INET Kathmandu conference brought together International agencies, local stakeholders involved in emergency planning, services and relief work discuss the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in disaster management and what lessons can we learn from Nepal. The conference was the first of such deliberations focusing on the use of the Internet and ICTs after the last year’s earthquake, and had very good response from both the local community and international organisations.
Here are the three key lessons that we learnt from the discussions:
During the Nepal earthquake, the electricity network was damaged, leading to power outages that created further panic and insecurity among the people. With no power available to charge their mobile phones, people were not able to communicate inwards / outwards on their location, emergency needs and ascertain if their loved ones were fine. Solar panels and Generators did help but it took much time to transport and install them in affected communities. Keeping the fuel supply intact for generators was also an issue. Speakers concluded that power supply management, its distribution and availability needs to be kept on high priority for both Pre and Post Disaster Management Strategies.
Radio station networks still play a vital role in providing information to communities affected by a disaster. In case of the Nepal earthquake, radio stations helped tremendously in broadcasting first-hand information. It should be noted that remote communities in developing countries still depend on information based on local languages(s). Community based radios in Nepal provided that critical link during early stages of the disaster. INET Kathmandu concluded that radio stations – and well-informed community radio in particular – can play a vital role during disaster response work and thus is important to ensure their operations are up and running.
Role of Social Media
Statistics show clearly that people are already engaging in disaster relief management on social media, likewise government departments and agencies can use social media to directly inform people about natural hazards and disaster warning. Social media was widely used during the Nepal Earthquake not only by individuals, but also by organizations such as the Nepal Police and Nepalese National Emergency Operation Center. According to Nepal police official, there were more ‘person location finding’ requests received via social media than SMS. Social media also helped Nepal police to collate ‘what is needed where’ information from the ground and to mobilize collection and distribution of relief supplies like food, shelter etc. There were many incidents of immediate rescue of people stuck after the earthquake after such messages were sent to Nepal Police through social media channels. Experts at the conference suggested that Governments should now consider implementing their own social media strategy especially for disaster management operations.
It is not possible to stop natural disasters from taking place. What we can do is ensure that rescue and relief services are efficient and able to provide timely response – ICTs at all levels, are a significant tool in getting the right information to the right people at the right time to save lives and reduce losses.