Using ICT for disaster management in Bangladesh

Natural disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes and floods are an ever-present risk in Bangladesh. In 2012, the government used legislation to create the Department of Disaster Management. One of its major initiatives is to maintain the country’s efforts to apply Information and Communications Technology in preparing for disasters and responding to them when they occur.

The challenge

Bangladesh has suffered a number of major natural disasters, such as the cyclone of 1991 and many earthquakes, floods, and landslides. As a result, the government recognised the need to have a specific government agency in order to prepare for, and respond to, such disasters in a methodical and ordered way.

The initiative

The government’s vision was to reduce the risk of the Bangladeshi people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, from the effects of natural, environmental and human-induced disasters, and to have an efficient emergency response system capable of handling large-scale disasters.

In 2010, the government developed the National Plan for Disaster Management 2010–2015. In accordance with the national plan, the government introduced the National Disaster Management Act 2012.  This statute created the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), which was set up in November 2012, and undertakes risk reduction activities, responds to disaster events, and strengthens and coordinating programmes undertaken by the different stakeholders.

There are a number of information and communications technology (ICT) facilities that have been developed in order to monitor natural phenomena:

  • The Global Integrated Observing System collects data from 17 satellites, hundreds of ocean buoys, thousands of aircrafts and ships, and nearly ten thousand land-based stations.
  • The Global Telecommunication System (GTS) is a dedicated network of surface and satellite-based telecommunication links and centres.
  • The Global Data Processing and Forecasting System is a network of nearly 50 global and regional specialised meteorological centres that provides analysis, bulletins and related information.
  • Cyclone shelter database information was made available online by the Disaster Management Information Centre (DMIC).
  • Early warning through mobile broadcasting has been introduced in two districts – Sirajgonj (for flood warnings) and Cox’s Bazaar (for yclone warnings).

The public impact

State governments and departments throughout the country have taken proactive measures to use the mobile channel to supply information to their citizens.

The Interactive Voice Response service (10941) provides up-to-date messages about weather conditions, disaster information and early warnings.  It received more than 100,000 calls in 2013 alone.

Many Bangladeshi farmers have already started seeing significant benefits as a result of the improved meteorological data that they receive via ICT services.

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

Many stakeholders support the programme energetically, by engaging themselves in many initiatives and partnering with different institutions.

Institutional donors such as the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the EU and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) supporting the DDM’s programmes. At a regional level the UN Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) are also involved in programmes in Bangladesh.

Numerous NGOs, such as Oxfam and Action Aid, are active in post-disaster response and rehabilitation operations as supplementary to the efforts of the government. They are also maintain high levels of pre-disaster awareness and preparedness at household and community level:

  • The World Food Programme (WFP) has partnered with Vodafone Foundation and United Nations Foundation to set up an ICT Humanitarian Emergency Platform. [1]
  • The Disaster Management Bureau (DMB) teamed up with mobile operators Grameenphone and Teletalk to provide early warnings for cyclones and floods. [2]
  • Airtel, another private mobile operator, is collaborating with the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, the Center for Global Change, and the NGOs Oxfam and CARE to provide early weather warnings to fishermen at sea using its global positioning system.

Political Commitment Good

The Ministry of Disaster Management & Relief has helped in the implementation. The then prime minister of Bangladesh, Mrs Sheikh Hasina also supported the ICT programme, commending the deployment of state-of-the art digital technology.

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The objectives stated for the policy in 2009 as part of Bangladesh’s disaster management have been followed since, and various steps have been undertaken to achieve them, although the approach has been general and qualitative rather than quantitative.

Evidence Strong

A study was carried out in 2007 by the Disaster Resource Network in Bangladesh to examine the factors contributing to effective ICT use in disaster responses. Analysis carried out into the behaviour of in Bangladeshi citizens found that only 30 percent of the population had access to electricity and many did not always have access to other media such as TV or radio. If they did, it might be turned off during an emergency. Therefore, mobile technology, which is more widespread and is generally switched on, was found to be evidently the most useful.

It was also found that after a disaster many are left homeless and always on the move. During these situations, sending out announcements through mobile phones can be an effective means to keep people organised and run post-disaster operations more effectively.

The government of Bangladesh also looked at the disaster responses elsewhere, for example in 2010 a post-Haiti earthquake meeting of technology and development experts identified opportunities offered by the use of ICT use in disaster response.

Feasibility Good

Due to a vast channel of mobile phone usage, SMS facilities and connecting via mobile phones was seen as an important measure in responding to disasters. There were various steps taken to look into the feasibility of such an operation.

The ICT Price Basket shows that Bangladesh has relatively affordable mobile phone prices, an important reason why the use of mobile operators was considered to be feasible for disaster management, and they are relatively widely used throughout the country. Of small survey, 81% of the total sample believed that SMS-based disaster alert would be more helpful than via other media like TV, radio and the internet.

However, the usage of mobile phones has its own limitations, as the survey also found:

  • About a third believed that additional training might be required to read SMS.
  • Only 18% were aware of government SMS notification.

There are other obstacles for the use of ICT in disaster management:

  • Damaged or destroyed communication networks would lead to a complete communications blackout in the affected areas.
  • Even if part of the communications system were still operational, it could quickly become overwhelmed by increasing traffic volumes at the time of the disaster.
  • In the event of a major earthquake in Bangladesh, particularly in large cities, there is high possibility of a severe breakdown in power supply in and around the affected areas.

Action

Management Good

Although a good ICT infrastructure is in place in Bangladesh, there is yet no comprehensive well-defined system in the country to designate the institutions and their responsibilities for emergency communication in a post-disaster situation.

However, there are a number of disaster management committees at ‘sub-national’ levels [3]:

  • The District Disaster Management Committee, which coordinates and reviews the disaster management activities at the district level.
    (Upazila Disaster Management Committee, which coordinates and reviews such activities at the Upazila level.
    The Union Disaster Management Committee.
    The Pourashava Disaster Management Committee, which coordinates, review and implement the disaster management activities within its area of jurisdiction.
  • The City Corporation Disaster Management Committee.

Measurement Good

Even though there are no measurement criteria laid down by the Bangladeshi government, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs conducts an annual global survey to measure the e-Government Development Index (EGDI) such that each nation’s developments in ICT can be analysed. The EGDI consists of three components: online service, technological infrastructure and human capital.

Alignment Strong

The actors involved in the ICT programme had a strong alignment of interests, by actively engaging themselves in various projects and initiatives to work for disaster recovery:

  • The Disaster Management Bureau (DMB) coordinates activities for implementing mobile technology for disaster management and has a line of communication with other weather forecasting agencies.
  • The DMB also disseminates disaster warning, rescue and recovery information through:
    • Formal channels of communication such as local authority and local area disaster shelters.
    • Disseminating disaster warning, rescue and recovery information directly to the affected people using mobile phones.
    • A line of communication between the DMB and the mobile phone operators.
  • The UNDP provides policy advisory services and capacity development to the Bangladeshi government on risk mitigation and effective humanitarian response.
  • The ITU Framework for Cooperation in Emergencies provides communications to UN agencies and humanitarian organisations to coordinate emergency relief, and in providing those affected by the disaster with free phone calls.
  • The ICT Humanitarian Emergency Platform helps increase the efficiency and coordination of emergency communications by optimising and standardising ICT solutions in emergencies and organising training programmes on using ICT in disaster preparation and response.