Disaster Management, Developing Country Communities & Climate Change: The Role of ICTs

Author and Institution: 
Nonita T. Yap, University of Guelph, Canada

Climate change presents two types of disaster threat in developing countries. One is the potentially devastating impacts on vulnerable communities of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events. This contributes to the second threat, the compounding of what are already complex development problems leading to a potential downward development spiral for the world’s poor.

Effective disaster response demands rapid access to reliable and accurate data and the capacity to assess, analyse and integrate information from varied sources. ICTs can obviously help, and this paper focuses on the role of ICTs in reducing the impacts of acute climate-related events. The centrality of the community in effective disaster management is argued while acknowledging the important role of governments, donors, businesses, epistemic communities and NGOs. Some ICT applications in hydrometeorological disasters are described. That the majority of applications are funded externally raises concerns about further dependency and unsustainability but the paper argues there are grounds for optimism.

Development of new wireless technologies; convergence of telecommunications, computing, and multi-media; multi-stakeholder partnerships; and the use of FOSS by socially minded ICT-savvy professionals are enabling greater  standardisation and interoperability, more data availability, greater reach at lower costs, and to some extent transparency and accountability of disaster resource allocation and delivery.

The paper closes with some recommendations on how the use of ICTs in community-centred disaster management may be enhanced. ICT systems should be developed that accommodate interoperation. Some of this, including a commitment to standardised disaster data collection, could be mandated on NGOs and other local agencies by those that fund them. ICT systems should be based around routinely-used rather than specialised applications. Further, we recommend integration rather than specialisation: with climate change becoming an integral part of disaster management systems rather than separately catered-for; and with generic information systems being created that encompass both disaster and development purposes. Finally the paper
argues that we also need to clarify how ICTs can address barriers to interagency coordination and collaboration, and how the new technologies can help evaluate the effectiveness and financial performance of disaster response programmes.