ITU forum explores the role of ICTs in disaster risk reduction
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) held a multi-stakeholder forum at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction on 15 March in Sendai, Japan, focusing on the use of ICTs for disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation.
The event explored the critical role of information and communication technology in disaster risk reduction as well as policy, legal, technical, regulatory, and operational issues. It also provided a platform for the review of progress made in implementing the Hyogo Framework and for sharing views on lessons learnt. Discussions also revolved around the role of ICT in addressing disasters that could negatively impact the post-2015 development agenda.
Mr Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), said that “with over 7 billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide, almost 3 billion people connected to the internet and with 4.9 billion connected devices, the telecommunications and ICT sector can support disaster risk reduction efforts.”
Panelists at the forum included Mr Ecweru Musa Francis, Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness & Refugees of Uganda; Mr Nicolas D. Ojeda Jr., Deputy Executive Director of the Information and Communications Technology Office of the Department of Science and Technology of the Philippines and Mr. Ken Yamamoto, Secretary of the International Amateur Radio Union. The event was moderated by Mr. Cosmas Zavazava, Chief of Department, Project Support and Knowledge Management, in the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.
Mr Yasuo Sakamoto, Vice Minister for Policy Coordination of Japan, spoke of the lessons learned from the Great East Japan earthquake that hit the country in 2011. “Many lives were saved as a result of tsunami warning broadcasts on various media outlets,” he said. “When natural disasters strike, delivering precise and prompt information is crucial. We should strongly recognize that ICT is a lifeline for saving lives.”
Mr Ojeda Jr observed that the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 Japan and Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013, “provided important lessons on disaster management and especially on the need for faster integration of ICTs into disaster risk reduction programmes.”
Mr Sanou spoke about the Smart Sustainable Development Model Initiative which creates a framework for optimizing the use of information and communication technology resources for development (ICT4D) and disaster management (ICT4DM). The initiative, which was launched by BDT, calls for the creation of a favorable policy and regulatory environment, which would enable communications to be restored in an efficient and timely manner in the aftermath of a disaster and for governments to make telecommunication infrastructures more resilient to disasters, especially in developing countries where they are more susceptible to breakdown.
Mr Sanou also mentioned the Development of Satellite Communications Capacity and Emergency Communications Solutions for the Pacific Islands region project. Signed in 2014, the project is an example of how ICTs for development are linked to ICTs for disaster risk reduction. The three year project aims to develop low cost satellite communications systems for the socio-economic development of the Pacific Islands region. The same infrastructure will be used for emergency telecommunications to ensure public safety when disasters strike. He noted that the project was to be replicated in the Caribbean and then Africa since the priority was to support Small Island Developing States through this kind of a project owing to their unique challenges and vulnerability.
He also noted that a multi-stakeholder approach to disaster risk reduction was crucial, adding that projects undertaken by ITU actively encourage the participation of local communities “to effectively respond to local needs and also to build appropriate community resilience.”