It is essential that we look at disaster management from the development angle. It is no longer either a one-off or stand-alone activity.Despite the fact that disaster preparedness has not been identified as one of the MDGs, it is apparent that proper mechanisms for disaster awareness and means of disaster recovery are essential to achieving the MDGs. In particular, the MDG targets such as integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes, and reversing the loss of environmental resources can never be achieved without giving due emphasis to effective disaster management strategies.
The key priorities for the future, as illustrated by the UN/ISDR report ‘Living with Risk’(2004), can be extremely useful to help understand the prospects of ICT in disaster risk reduction.
First, as the report points out, there is a need for disaster and risk reduction to be an essential part of the broader concerns of sustainable development,and hence the need to make sure that risk assessments and vulnerability reduction measures are taken into account in different fields, such as environmental management, poverty reduction and financial management. Second, it is essential to note that current development practices do not necessarily reduce community vulnerability to disasters – indeed, ill-advised and misdirected development practices may actually increase disaster risks. A considerable challenge remains in raising awareness of this concern and to influence and enhance existing development projects, poverty reduction strategies and other programmes to systematically reduce disaster risk.
Third, political commitment by public and private policy makers and local community leaders, based on an understanding of risks and disaster reduction concepts, is fundamental to achieving change. Finally, even though national and local authorities bear the main responsibility for the safety of their people, it is the international community’s duty to advocate policies and actions in developing countries that pursue informed and well-designed disaster risk reduction strategies, and to ensure that their own programmes reduce disaster risks. The challenge is to determine the role of ICT in addressing these priorities. ICT is only a tool and it should not be treated as a panacea for all issues arising in disaster management.As is the case with any other tool, the effectiveness of ICT in reducing disaster risk depends on how it is used. The use of ICT for disaster management should not be a choice between this medium/ technology against that medium/technology. The very reason for the existence of so many channels is that none of them is suitable for every situation. One medium that might fit best under a certain set of circumstances might be of little use under another.Thus, what is required is not a competition between different media and technologies, but instead, using the best combination depending upon the circumstances. One obvious challenge facing the Asia-Pacific region is the low ICT penetration level in most of the region’s developing countries.According to the UNDP Human Development Report of 2005, in 2003, the tele-densities of Cambodia, Nepal and Bangladesh were 38, 18 and 15 per 1,000 people, respectively. The situation is the same for radio and television. The irony is that while a small selection of households might have all of these media, the majority does not have any of them. With such low penetration levels, it is extremely difficult to establish any effective ICT-based disaster warning system. For such communities, it is essential to think of other means (such as community radio or public address systems). Unless the levels of telephone, radio and television penetration can be reasonably increased, it is difficult to guarantee that such a community can be free from disaster risks, irrespective of the efficiency of the disaster monitoring systems. Another significant challenge to be recognized is the reluctance of some national governments to implement ICT-friendly policies. Many governments do not see investment in ICT or even building up ICT-enabling infrastructure as priorities. The result invariably will be that ICT and technology in general take a backseat to presumed priorities such as ensuring good governance practices, providing healthcare facilities and addressing gender barriers. The examples provided in this e-Primer make it obvious that as far as disaster management is concerned, there is no reason why ICT should take such a secondary role. ICTs, in this context, are not just commercial tools that are being used for the sole purpose of increasing profits in a business; they play a much larger role in protecting the well-being of the general population. It should therefore be the responsibility of all concerned stakeholders, from governments to donor organizations, to give the right priority to ICT development and adoption. Only that will ultimately guarantee disaster risk reduction for all.