ICT for Disaster Management/Introduction

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Introduction[edit]

The term ‘disaster’, meaning ‘bad star’ in Latin, is defined as an impact of a natural or man-made hazard that causes human suffering or creates human needs that the victims cannot alleviate without assistance.The word’s root is from astrology and implies that when the stars are in a bad position, a bad event is about to happen. In a recent document published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Americas, a disaster is defined as ’a social crisis situation occurring when a physical phenomenon of natural, socio-natural or anthropogenic origin negatively impacts vulnerable populations ... causing intense, serious and widespread disruption of the normal functioning of the affected social unit.' [1] According to another widespread definition, disasters occur when hazards strike in vulnerable areas. [2]

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In development circles today, disaster management is often treated holistically rather than as a single issue. It is an essential component of any development framework. Proper disaster management has been recognized as a key requirement towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the specified target of 2015, as illustrated in Figure 1.Meanwhile, information and communications technology for development (ICT4D). [3] has been recognized as one of the key enablers for achieving the MDGs.

Figure 1: Contribution of Disaster Management Efforts to MDG Achievement

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Recent events have shown that there is no country that does not stand the threat of a disaster, though they may be threatened at different levels.Therefore, disaster preparedness is no longer a choice; it is mandatory irrespective of where one lives. As shown in Figure 2, the Asia-Pacific region is one of the most risk-prone areas for disasters, based on disaster occurrences since 1995.

Figure 2: Number of Disasters by Origin: Regional Distribution, 1995–2004

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Monsoon Floods in Kathmandu, Nepal

Risk types vary and increase depending on a country’s geographic location. For instance, countries like China, Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan are prone to earthquakes. Small island states in the Pacific region and countries like the Maldives are prone to various types of threats from the sea. Bangladesh and parts of China and India experience floods each year. Figure 3 shows how different types of disasters are distributed across regions, while Figure 4 highlights some of the worst disasters mankind has faced over the past 30 years.

Figure 3: Regional Distribution of Disasters: By Triggering Hazards, 1995–2004

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Figure 4: Large-Impact Disasters over the Last 30 Years

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Source: EM-DAT: The OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database – http://www.em-dat.net – Université Catholique de Louvain – Brussels-Belgium, 2004.

  • Includes disasters with at least 2,000 people killed or US$10 billion of economic losses (2002 US$ value).

Some countries have also encountered man-made hazards recently (e.g. river pollution in China). Environmental pollution taking place today could be the origin of many man-made disasters in the coming years. In addition, with the increased mobility of people, there is always the danger of a serious outbreak of a fatal disease (e.g. avian flu, mad cow disease and SARS). This too may lead to disastrous situations.