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Growing the Internet Technology

Lessons from The Nepal Quake: Tech's Role When Disaster Strikes

When disaster strikes many of us, no matter where we are, want to do something. 

The net, with its ability to connect us all, is becoming the tool of choice for digital humanitarians and citizens to lend a hand. 

Is it making a difference? 

Looking at the After Nepal’s devastating 2015 earthquake, the Internet became a lifeline. 

And while communication is now considered a crucial part of aid and social media is part of the toolset, privacy, power and access are just some of the complex challenges that digital humanitarians must navigate when using these platforms in their work to help communities in need. 

The Internet Society’s Asia-Pacific Bureau and Internet Society Nepal Chapter are organizing INET Kathmandu aimed to bring together International agencies, Rapid response groups and local stakeholders involved in disaster planning, management and relief services to deliberate and inform thoughts on: 

  • Lesson from the 2015 Earthquake in Nepal
  • Regional developments, experiences and best practices
  • Technological paradigms in disaster risk reduction
  • Future mechanisms for disaster management 

We need you to be part of the discussion. 

If you’d like to join the event in person you can register online HERE 

You can also watch the live stream of the conference on 18th March and you can also be part of the discussion by following #INETKTM on twitter.

We look forward to having you take part!

Categories
Community Projects

Bringing Nepal Back Online: Free WiFi to Bhimeshwar

Residents of Bhimeshwar (formerly Charikot) whose houses were damaged in the April 25 earthquake and live now in tents can now use the free wifi provided by the Internet Society Nepal Chapter.

Today the trip to help Nepal get back online takes us to Bhimeshwar, formerly Charikot, and still referred to as Charikot, the headquarters of Dolakha district about 4 hours driving North-West from Kathmandu. This area is halfway Kathmandu and the Everest region and is much more mountainous and higher than Kathmandu.

Most buildings in Bhimeshwar are standing. It is a provincial town that only in recent decades grew and most buildings are relatively new and in concrete.
A view over Bhimeshwar.

However a number of those collapsed anyway as most of the town is precariously built on steep slopes. Many buildings that are still standing show cracks.


A street in Bhimeshwar.
The three wifi devices we want to install arrived already the day before. The solar panels and batteries that normally power the wifi devices during power cuts haven’t arrived yet although the truck carrying them left Kathmandu hours before us.

The first place where we install a wifi device is on the roof of a concrete building near another area where a cluster of tents is erected. But again there is a power cut and we cannot test it.

Members and supporters of the free wifi project of the Internet Society Nepal Chapter install a wifi spot on a rooftop in Bhimeshwar.

We first visit a local radio station, Hamro Radio FM, which has their antenna on one of the hills of Bhimeshwar. The building with the antenna still stands but the studio is moved to two tents because the building where the studio is located, underneath the broadcasting tower, shows cracks.


Hamro Radio FM is located in a makeshift studio located in a tent on a hill near the center of Bhimeshwar since the April 25 earthquake.

In the tent with all electronic equipment I meet Laxmi Basnet, an 18 year old news reader. She used to be a part time news reader before the earthquake and attended college, but now schools and universities are all closed so she works full time for radio.


Laxmi Basnet (18), a part time news reader for Hamro Radio FM, checks the internet for news in the radio’s makeshift studio located in a tent on a hill near the center of Bhimeshwar.

On the antenna behind the tents a small device is attached the previous day by the local Internet Society Nepal Chapter volunteers. It is a free wifi transmitter and the whole area can now go online for free. However, only when there is electricity, the device is not powered by a solar panel.

A few meters down from the radio tents there is a small tented camp where the local residents live now. This hill has been severely affected by the earthquake; a number of houses collapsed and many are damaged beyond repair and too dangerous to live in.

For checking news updates we rely on the internet, and then we broadcast it via our radio. The other internet services are often unreliable and expensive so the free internet is important.

The previous day and immediately after this wifi spot was installed Gokarna Prasad Bandhari, a reporter for a local newspaper, together with other journalists did online research and filed stories using the free internet access.

Armed with their smart phones and laptop they sat on the hill and worked.


Gokarna Prasad Bandhari, a local news paper journalist (right), shows a photo to Babu Ram Aryal to explain how local journalists used the newly installed free wifi system the previous day.

The school ground is now also a tented camp for earthquake victims. One of them is Subash Subedi (22). Subash sits in his tent surfing the internet using a wireless connection that connects to the mobile 3G network. That is expensive and he is pleased to hear that free wifi is being installed soon.


Subash Subedi (22) a resident of Bhimeshwar (formerly Charikot) is surfing the internet in a temporarily shelter since the April 25 earthquake damaged his home.

Free wifi would be good as using 3G is expensive. We use the internet to inform our self and it is the best way to keep in touch with friends and family.

Photos: © Tom Van Cakenberghe

* If you would like to help the Chapter bring Nepal back online you can donate on our website.

Categories
Community Projects

Bringing Nepal Back Online: Solar Trip

The day started nice with sunny weather but now it is clouded and it often rains. That’s not good and can trigger more landslides.

An hour later a friend of mine, Kumar, arrives in a tiny car. I am a bit surprised we take that car as the road promises to be very bad at places where landslides were cleared. The equipment is loaded on the back seat of the car and I manage to fit just besides it.
Babu Ram Aryal (right), President of the of the Internet Society Nepal and ICT lawyer, inspects a solar panel in a warehouse in Kathmandu.

We leave Kathmandu direction Sindhupalchok, a district that was severely affected, and again got extra damaged in the May 12 quake.

It is after 2 hours into the journey that we see more and more collapsed houses, but nothing like the scale of destruction I expected. Sitting in this tiny car is not fun on a road like this.

On the way to Bhotsipa, a tiny village where volunteers of the Internet Society plan to deliver a solar panel, they drive through Sipaghat where almost all houses have been destroyed when the April 25 earthquake struck Nepal. 

Sometime later, when we reach the Indrawati River, I see more collapsed houses and at some places the road has been cleared of small landslides. Suddenly we drive into Sipaghat Bazar where almost all houses, many made of regular bricks and concrete are leveled, and what remains is clearly too dangerous to live in. Maybe 15% is habitable. Sipaghat is the first village we see that really looks destroyed by the earthquake.

We drive through the main road that has just a single lane cleared from debris and cross the bridge over the Indrawati River. There, at the other side of the bridge, we become stuck.

It’s surprising that we even got this far with this car.

Somnath Bhattarai and his family install a solar panel and battery on the roof of their temporary shelter in Bhotsipa village. The panel and battery were donated by the Internet Society.

We drive back through the destruction of Sipaghat Bazar and the body of the car makes cracking sounds as it drives through potholes and grinds over bricks, concrete and metal still littering the cleared road.

We continue to village two, higher up North. The road serpentines following steep slopes of the Indrawati River gorge. We see the remains of larger more dangerous landslides.

The day started nice with sunny weather but now it is clouded and it often rains. That is not good and can trigger more landslides.

We move a bit further up the road to a place where there is no danger for landslides and wait for a local politician to help us find the next village where we must install the panel. It hasn’t stopped raining.

We’ll be donating the panel to a village 30 minutes walking up the steep mountain slope. There is no electricity and so far no attempts have been there to reconnect that place.

Kumar tries to drive his car up a dirt road that leads to the village but the tires just can’t get any grip and we leave the car. People of the village take over and carry the solar panel and the very heavy battery. The rain has stopped.

Local men of Talramarang, a tiny village that has been cut off from the power grid since the April 25 earthquake struck Nepal, carry up a solar panel and battery donated by volunteers of the Internet Society Nepal.

About 30 minutes later we reach the spot where the villagers want the panel to be installed. It is a big house and I think it is the house of the village leader, but it is also heavily cracked. The village is more a loose cluster of houses dotted on a gentle slope with rice fields. Most houses are standing, but at closer inspection are seriously damaged.

A partially destroyed house in Talramarang, a tiny village that has been cut off from the power grid since the April 25 earthquake struck Nepal.

Kumar and I install the panel, and it all works.

Locals of Talramarang, a tiny village that has been cut off from the power grid since the April 25 earthquake struck Nepal, install a solar panel and battery donated by volunteers of the Internet Society Nepal.

We return to Kathmandu and start to plan our next journey.

* If you would like to help the Chapter bring Nepal back online you can donate on our website.

Photos: © Tom Van Cakenberghe
Categories
Growing the Internet

Rebuild Nepal

It’s only a few days after the earthquake and while our Chapter is tired and still recovering, we’re determined to be part of the next page in Nepal’s history: rebuilding.

There is so much to do. Power still hasn’t been restored, communication towers are down and the infrastructure in some areas is completely destroyed.

Nepal police offices in remote parts of Nepal and personnel working in the field have described their problems of not having electricity connection and failure to charge their mobile to communicate effectively.

As a first step, our Chapter President Babu Ram Aryal handed over connection equipment to Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police to support efficient earthquake rescue operation.

We donated over 50 Nos of Power Bank (Mobile Recharger), 20 Set of Inverter, Solar Panel and Battery to CIB Director, DIG Hemanta Malla Thakuri. Our Vice President, President Bikram Shrestha, General Secretary Santosh Sigdel, Treasurer Amar Raj Bhandari, Executive Member Suraj Singh Thakuri, IPP Ishwari Prasad Sharma and CIB DSP Naresh Malla there.

Internet Society Nepal has been working in Nepal since 2007 to promote internet access. The recent earthquake and immediate aftershocks have badly hit electricity and internet connection in Nepal causing serious effect to communication among rescue workers including Nepal police.

In an immediate discussion after the tremor Nepal Police has shared this problems of connectivity with ISOC Nepal. The earthquake in Nepal has caused massive loss of lives and physical property. So far, the death casualties have crossed 4,769 till now and the number of injured is more than 10,000.

Categories
Community Projects

Rebuilding: Life During and After the 2015 Earthquake in Nepal

Babu Ram, His wife, and daughter on Saturday night. The family is currently sleeping outside due to structural damage with their home. They will relocate to live with extended family while their housing situation is being sorted.


Early Saturday a powerful 7.8 earthquake devastated the country of Nepal. It’s the nation’s worst earthquake in 80 years and has already claimed the lives of more than 5 000 people, injured thousands more and left tens of thousands of people without homes and supplies.

The Internet Society has a Chapter in Nepal and has been working on Internet related projects in the region since 2007.

The following is a conversation with Babu Ram, President of the Internet Society Nepal Chapter, about the events of Saturday.

The conversation was held over instant messaging. All Chapter members are safe, recovering, and looking to help with the rebuilding efforts.

Saturday Morning

Saturday morning was a very horrible moment to think about. I was preparing for my trip to the United States and had a small meeting at a client’s office before my departure. That was at 10:30 am.

My wife was at home with our 7-month-old daughter. I was speaking to her over the phone when we felt the first tremor.

She said, “Baba bhukamp aayo bhukamp aayo” (Dear – There is an earthquake! There is shock of an earthquake!)

And then the telephone was disconnected. I tried to call her again but failed. We live on the 7th floor of a high-rise apartment.

Right after the first tremor I ran down to my Motorbike and drove home in 20 minutes. I know that probably wasn’t the wisest choice – but I needed to get home.

When I saw my family, my wife cried. I felt so guilty I was not there for my 7-month-old daughter.

People Coming Together

All my neighbours had come out in the open. One man only had his boxer shorts on so I gave him my coat to cover him.

We didn’t have any money on us (all I had was American money in preparation for my trip) and my daughter was only wearing light clothes and we had no food. The shop keeper next door gave us clothes and food. We still haven’t been able to pay for them.

Then I had to call my family. My father is 84 years old and my mother isn’t feeling well. I also have two sisters in Kathmandu and two brothers in native place, Chitwan District. After almost one and a half hours I finally got words from my parents. They also informed me that my sisters were safe.

I couldn’t connect to my brothers in Nepal but thanks to the Internet I was able to get their information via Skype call from another brother who lives in Toronto – who had heard from my brother here and found out they were safe. The magic of the Internet!

When I realized I had an evening flight to the US, I felt really confused what to do at first. My mind couldn’t process. I was not able to contact the airline office to know the status. However, I finally decided to cancel the trip and informed the organizer. And then realized that was the most rational decision I’ve ever made in my life.

Sorting Out that Night 

About 5 hours later I was able to get back into my apartment and get some baby food and warm clothes for my daughter. Then we residents had a brief meeting on how to sort out the night. People were scared to enter into our apartments.

There were certain cracks in our building so we cannot sleep at home anymore. Across the city all the space has been open for people. Whether it’s the police headquarters or parliament buildings, all are open. We residents of the apartment collected a few tents and prepared for the nights. We prepared food in open space.

I then shifted to another place nearby at my friend’s house. My friend is with a ground floor house. We go there during the day time and for food but at night my wife, my daughter, and I are sleeping outside.

What It’s Like On the Ground

There are no reports of violence, looting, or crime so far. It is reported that more than 80 percent of houses of Barpak village, which is one of the epicenters, are completely destroyed. Impact of the earthquake is huge outside of Kathmandu. But, the damage is greatest in Kathmandu.

Kathmandu comprises three districts: Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. All the districts were founded 300 years ago and these districts were different small kingdoms then. Now the capital of all those three Kingdoms are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Unfortunately, most of the destruction is in these areas.

What’s Next

Today we’re physically also tired and weak. Mentally, we are recovering slowly. But there are more tremors. Recently, there was another tremor measured 5.1 with epicenter in Indian side, near the eastern border. We have been facing more than 80 tremors that are higher than 4.5.

The Chapter is looking at how it can help.

There are small things to do.

For example, I was asked by the President of the ISP Association to coordinate with the Ministry of Information and Communication to make sure they have a regular supply of fuel for their BTS tower to continue the Internet service.

I was also told that some towers of ISPs and Telecoms have been completely destroyed. We are trying to mobilize the chapter members during this disaster. Our Chapter members are truly diverse. They include bankers, lawyers, media persons, writers, software developers, and technical experts. There are all sorts of ways we could help.

We’re assessing the situation and ready to help with the rebuilding efforts.

Just felt a minor tremor. I should go.

 

Shortly after this conversation Babu Ram reported back that he was safe.

Photo: © 2015 Babu Ram Aryal