The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) has calculated that of the 5,210 disasters recorded in the world between 1991 and 2005, 2,029 (approximately 40 percent) have occurred in the Asia-Pacific region. Several other reports have stated that in the last three years alone, the region has been prone to more natural disasters than in the last three decades. Earthquakes across Indonesia and other countries in the region have now become annual occurrences for the last three years, particularly in areas along the Sumatra fault, the origin of the earthquake that spawned the 2004 tsunami. The year 2006 was also notable in that the Pacific typhoon season ran year-round, causing considerable physical damage and loss of life in many Asian countries, including China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam. The consequences of natural and man-made disasters and the vulnerabilities to which populations are exposed can be mitigated if they are targeted proactively. Though one must always remember that it is not always possible to completely eliminate a risk,extensive experience and practice in the past few decades have demonstrated that the damage caused by any disaster can be minimized largely by careful planning, mitigation and prompt action. In this context, information and communications technology (ICT) can potentially play a pivotal role in disaster prevention, mitigation and management. Remote sensing for early warning is made possible by various available technologies, including telecommunication satellites, radar, telemetry and meteorology. ICT encompasses both traditional media (radio, television) as well as new media (cell broadcasting, Internet, satellite radio), all of which can play a major role in educating the public on the risks of a potential or impending disaster. Before disasters strike, ICTs are used as a conduit for disseminating information on an impending danger, thereby making it possible to take the necessary precautions to mitigate the impact of these disasters. In order for this to be possible, it is critical that there be consistency in the application of ICT and the dissemination of warning messages to at-risk areas. Such warning dissemination must be widespread and should educate the public on the potential risks to the local area.No matter how expensive or sophisticated, a warning system can never be totally effective without an education component. Furthermore, ICT plays a critical role in facilitating the reconstruction process and in coordinating the return of those displaced by disasters to their original homes and communities. Disaster management activities, in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, can be made more effective by the use of appropriate ICT tools. These include tools for resource management and tracking, communication under emergency situations (e.g. use of Internet communications), collecting essential items for the victims, and national and international fundraising. Since the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) together with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have taken initiatives to study the current situation of emergency communications in the Asia-Pacific countries and to give recommendation on national emergency telecommunication and national early warning system setups. Assessments were conducted in Bangladesh,Maldives and Sri Lanka on these emergency communication systems. To enhance early warning systems, ADPC, under the Indian Ocean Early-Warning System programme, also introduced the Tsunami Alert Rapid Notification System Programme with emphasis on robust ICT systems to disseminate information and warnings from the national to the community level. In line with this, I am pleased to introduce this e-Primer brought to you by the United Nations Development Programme’s Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP) and the Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT). I am confident that this e-Primer will play an effective role in enhancing and propagating awareness of various ICT tools and will serve as a guide to policy makers, disaster management practitioners and media personnel on how best to use ICT tools to successfully counter the threat of disaster.
Prof. Krasae Chanawongse Chairman ADPC Board of Trustees