With climate change, natural disasters are becoming increasingly unpredictable.
Across Asia, this has lead to human suffering and infrastructure damage, placing a huge burden on local economies. This can effectively keep them in a development trap, unable to grow sustainably.
GovInsider has looked at examples of innovation in disaster management and preparation across the region. Here are four ways in which governments can be better prepared.
1. Predicting disasters
First, governments should look at what can they can do before a disaster strikes. The shift in mindset has lead to a focus on predicting natural disasters and their impact.
Japan is looking at how tsunamis and their impact could better be predicted which helps them to evacuate affected regions much more efficiently. Likewise, the Red Cross uses data to evacuate and mobilise resources so as to maximise the impact of their humanitarian work.
And the results are showing. As Marc van den Homberg of 510, the data analytics unit of the Netherlands Red Cross puts it: “Every dollar spent on response can be much more effective if you use it in the preparedness phase.”
This conviction is also reflected in the Sendai Framework, a major agreement on the development agenda adopted in 2015, that mentions several targets for countries, among them a focus on early warning capabilities.
2. Citizen participation
When it comes to natural disasters, the local population – being the most affected stakeholder – can bring valuable knowledge to the table. That is why in efforts to reduce disaster risks, governments must involve residents in how they plan and prepare for disasters.
In the Philippines, Project NOAH has made great strides in engaging the local population. Under the project, data is collected through sensors but also by talking to the local populations. Officials visit far-flung areas to show residents physical models of disasters, understand their experiences and answer questions.
The project also ensures that updates on disasters can be easily understood across the country. Project NOAH publishes real-time sensor data on an online interactive map, highlighting areas of danger. National icon Manny Pacquiao’s silhouette is used to visualise flooding levels across the country.
“We need to talk to musicians so that they can write songs and these songs can be used by the children to learn about disaster preparedness and disaster awareness,” project director Mahar Lagmay says.
3. Understand and use technology
Technology allows governments to identify solutions that were simply not possible a few years ago.
For instance, Kawasaki city in Japan has partnered with academics and tech companies to use artificial intelligence and supercomputing to predict tsunamis much more accurately and quickly than before. They are also simulating how residents behave during disasters in order to better plan evacuation routes and mitigation plans.
However, the technology doesn’t have to be advanced to make a difference. For instance, in Cambodia, simply setting up a disaster database help officials figure out that lightning strikes were causing the second highest number of deaths from disasters, but nothing was being done to prevent these. India is now following suit with its own disaster database by 2020.
A key point here is that projects are not lead by technology. The focus should be first on the problems that need to be solved – like prioritising disaster resources in India or better tsunami mitigation plans in Japan. Officials must understand what the technology can and cannot do for them.
4. Steal good ideas
Exchanging new insights helps everyone: others do not have to constantly reinvent the wheel and you can take credit for finding an innovative solution. If a good approach to a challenge has been found, the goal has to be to spread this approach as widely as possible to increase the positive impact.
For example, the Netherlands Red Cross set up its own data analytics unit to help aid agencies better distribute their resources in disaster-stricken countries. It has shared these lessons with the Malawi Red Cross in Africa which now has its own data team, with Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya following.
When India planned to set up a national database of disasters, it learnt a great deal from similar experiences in countries like Cambodia and Indonesia. It worked with international organisations like the United Nations Development Programme who are able to share lessons from across the region and help the government build up its own capabilities.
Similarly, other development institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the Asian Development Bank can have a lot of leverage to integrate the latest insights in the countries they are operating in by making resilience to natural disasters and sustainability a core aspect of projects they fund.
With the growing likelihood of severe natural disasters, it is a priority to find innovative ways for disaster risk reduction. By taking early action, combining technology with local insights and citizens’ experiences, and learning from others’ successes, governments can be much better prepared for what lies ahead.