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Using telecentres for disaster risk management at the community level

UNESCAP: Using telecentres for disaster risk management at the community level. The aim of this policy brief is to explore the possibilities of using telecentres for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), drawing from real world examples of what is being done in India and the Philippines.
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  POLICY BRIEF ON ICT APPLICATIONSIN THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY  ISSUE NO. 5 SEPTEMBER 2009 Using telecentres for disaster risk managementat the community level   Telecentres are community centres that providepublic access to information and communicationstechnology (ICT) in the form of telephones,computers and the Internet. In addition to providingaccess to computers, they are gradually expandingtheir services to include e-learning, e-government, e-health, training and skills development, financialservices and other services that are relevant to thelocal community. 1  Over the last decade, the number of telecentres hasbeen growing rapidly in many developing countries.Mission 2007, a multi-stakeholder initiative in India,is setting up telecentres, known as knowledgecentres in India, for 600,000 villages. 2 Similarly,Mission 2011 in Bangladesh is aiming to set up40,000 community-based e-centres by 2011. 3 Thetelecentres would enhance access to informationand government services for rural people. In SriLanka, as of June 2009, there were 587 operationaltelecentres, and the number is estimated to grow tomore than 1,000 in the coming year. 4 With theexpansion of telecentres and the growing interest ofcountries in addressing disaster risk reduction andclimate change adaptation with a focus on actions atthe local level, a possible area of service expansionfor telecentres is to support communities inmanaging disaster risk, vulnerability and exposurethrough disaster prevention, preparedness, responseand recovery. 5  The Village Resource Centre programme of India isan example of a telecentre initiative that hasexpanded services to support disaster riskmanagement (DRM) activities. The programme wasinitiated by the Department of Space in collaborationwith partners to provide rural communities withspace-enabled services in order to improve theirsocio-economic conditions and quality of life. Thescope of the services includes disaster warning. 6  The Village Knowledge Centre in Pondicherry, India,sponsored by the M.S. Swaminathan ResearchFoundation, functions as a weather reporting station.Weather and wave height information is obtainedfrom open sources on the Internet and is theninterpreted and presented in the local language. TheVillage Knowledge Centre also provides naturaldisaster warnings. The Foundation is working on linkingthe Centre with the state’s early warning system, andthis attempt at disaster preparedness empowerscommunities by increasing their access to technologywhich will be used locally. 7 In the Philippines, theRegional Electronic Access to Communication forHealth in Eastern Visayas (REACH-EV) e-Centre,established with support from the United NationsEducational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, alsoserves as a databank of hazards and disasters in thearea. The e-Centre involves the community byconducting a series of trainings for local and regionalcommunity leaders on topics such as disastermanagement and communications. Electronic contenton disaster management, which is based on thelessons and experiences of the region in dealing withthe various forms of natural disasters, is availableonline and on CD-ROM at the e-Centre.Telecentres in vulnerable coastal regions have beenserving as community-owned early warning systems forextreme sea weather conditions. These telecentresillustrate a variety of real life applications in support ofdisaster risk reduction. They also provide informationand advisory services for livelihood recovery in post-disaster situations. In many developing countries in theregion, telecentres that were set up after majordisasters are now also addressing disasterpreparedness. United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific    2   These examples highlight the usefulness of telecentresas a tool for creating awareness and disseminatinginformation for disaster risk reduction in ruralcommunities. In rural telecentres, it is worthwhile tocapture indigenous knowledge about hazards in orderto help build up disaster resilience at the communitylevel. In the coming years, telecentres could redefinethe delivery of disaster early warnings and carry out thevarious activities related to disaster management. Forthat to happen, capacity-building in DRM needs toinclude community leaders and telecentre operators,and disaster management authorities need torecognize that telecentres could be part of thenationalframework for disaster management. Thismoves away from the established paradigm of top-down disaster management, and telecentres areenabling the transition to a more local community-based approach to disaster management.This paper briefly examines the functional roles that atelecentre can add to its services to support DRM at thecommunity level. It also examines the challenges thatcould affect the usefulness and effectiveness of thetelecentre for DRM and provides policy options thatcould enable and encourage telecentres to take on theadditional role. How can telecentres benefitdisaster risk management at thecommunity level? Many poor communities in developing countries areliving in disaster-prone areas, mainly for economicreasons. As a consequence, these communities aremore exposed to disaster risks and are morevulnerable to natural disasters than other communities.The use of telecentres would help them become betterprepared for and resilient to hazards. Indigenous knowledge for community-based disaster risk management  Communities located in disaster-prone areas haveindigenous knowledge relevant to disaster riskreduction and management, which can be capturedand used for community-based DRM. It is this localknowledge of hazards, vulnerabilities and the resourcesavailable that has to be captured so that disastermanagers can make plans together with thecommunities to manage the disaster risks they face.Community-based DRM is a set of processes andactivities that is used to capture this local knowledge,and to enhance and manage the use of the capturedknowledge by involving the local community. The aim isto strengthen the capacity of the communities to copewith the disaster risks that they face. For instance,Bangladesh began implementing community-basedDRM through its Cyclone Preparedness Programme,which created awareness about risks and enhancedthe capacities of communities to be prepared for andto respond to disasters.DRM is very information- and knowledge-intensive.Leveraging the available ICT tools in the telecentre,maximizing the centre’s use as a knowledge hub andexpanding its role in supporting DRM at thecommunity level could be effective ways to enhancedisaster preparedness for rural communities and atthe same time ensure the sustainability oftelecentres. Information bases for disaster risk management    Telecentres can be used effectively in helping toorganize community inputs into the planning andexecution of disaster risk reduction actions, such ascreating or raising risk awareness, enhancingprevention and mitigation response, and improvingpublic services and community facilities. The toolscommonly available at a telecentre, such ascomputers, scanners, printers and office software,can be used to capture the local information in digitalinformation bases. Examples of information basesinclude digitized hazard maps that track the hazardsto which the communities are vulnerable, digitizedresource maps that indicate the locations of theresources available to deal with the risks, andchronological logs of disasters that had previouslytaken place in the area. These information basescould be created with input and involvement from thelocal community with technical support from disastermanagement authorities. Awareness raising and training  Data on local hazards and risks stored at thetelecentres could be processed and redeployed tocreate information for training materials anddocumentation for standard operating procedures.This training information could then be disseminatedonline and accessed through the Internet. It couldalso be recorded on disks and sent to different areasfor offline, non-locale specific use. Telecentrenetworks can create non-locale specific DRMtraining in a collaborative manner with open-sourceonline collaboration software, such as wiki software,and the final result could be used by all thecommunities that the telecentre networks serve.Information sharing through telecentre networkscould provide the communities with greater insight.The end goal of disaster risk training is awareness ofthe risks and hazards that the community faces andof how the risks and hazards can be facedproactively. Communicating risk and last-mile early warning  A potential role of telecentres could be todisseminate natural disaster warnings to localcommunities. It is widely recognized that ICT playsan important role in effective early warning systems    3   and in successfully conducting activities for. preparednessand response. Communicating risks and alerts tocommunities could be one of the services oftelecentres. Through proper institutional arrangementsand standard operating procedures, authorized andverified alerts could be sent to the telecentres, whichwould initiate and activate the response plan under thedirection of community leaders. The example describedin the box shows how telecentres could be a functionalpart of a last-mile early warning system Knowledge centre in India usedto save lives during tsunami T he village of Nallavadu, located in the state ofTamil Nadu, India, was struck by the tsunami in2004. The village’s entire population of 3,600 wassaved, however, by a phone call to a ruralteleservice centre. Nallavadu is part of the M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation VillageKnowledge Centre project, and one of the project’svolunteers, Vijayakumar, learned about theapproaching tsunami while in Singapore. Heimmediately telephoned the Village KnowledgeCentre, setting off an instant reaction. A warning wasrepeatedly announced over the public addresssystem and a siren was set off. As a result, thetsunami claimed no victims there. Source  : T.S. Subramanian, “Their own warning systems”, Frontline  ,vol. 22, No. 2 (January 2005), accessed  Disaster management support system  A telecentre could also act as a command centre fordisaster response, using ICT equipment to create newinformation bases for disaster victims, for volunteerwork and resource allocation, and for other criticaldisaster recovery functions. Telecentres could also beused as storage facilities for emergency equipment,such as hand-held loudspeakers, walkie-talkies andflashlights. Challenges in the use oftelecentres for disaster riskmanagement Resources for capacity-building and training  It is important for communities to be involved andtrained in the use of ICT so that they can keepinformation bases updated and accurate. Essentiallocal knowledge has to be documented in theinformation base so that the processed data can betrustworthy in a disaster scenario. Just as there is aneed for external parties with skills and expertise toguide the DRM process, external capabilities are alsorequired to guide and train the community inintroducing and setting up ICT toolsets. The settingup of an information base requires the telecentrestaff to have certain skills, and the resources fortraining both the telecentre staff and the communityto use and maintain the systems have to be funded,allocated and sustained. This expertise needs to berecognized and funded as a component of nationaldisaster reduction programmes. Critical connectivity  During disasters, contact between disastermanagement authorities and the affectedcommunities through telecentres is critical for liaisingand coordinating assistance and support resources,and for upward reporting the disaster conditions tothe government agencies responsible for disastermanagement. In this respect, the availability ofpower, connectivity and telecommunicationsequipment needs to be ensured so thatcommunications with the disaster area will not belost. These services have to be treated as part ofdisaster-management communication capacity. Sustainability of telecentres  The sustainability of a telecentre is a majorchallenge. Plans should be in place to ensure thatcommunities are able to sustain the telecentres. Withthe design and use of telecentres as part of nationaldisaster management programmes, the sustainabilityof telecentres can be greatly improved. Funding forDRM functions and services as part of nationaldisaster risk reduction initiatives could be used tosupplement the ICT services provided by thetelecentres that are involved in DRM. Theeconomies of scale that stem from sharing the costof the necessary equipment and connectivity couldbe realized, further enhancing the sustainability oftelecentres. Policy recommendations Capacity-building of telecentres for DRM  : Theestablishment of community-based telecentres forDRM requires an enabling environment.Policymakers should therefore explore strategies    and policies aimed at enabling telecentres tobe funded and used for DRM work. In this regard,it should be possible to leverage economies ofscale in order to build telecentres in disaster-proneareas as part of last-mile early warning systems inthe national disaster management framework.Policies should be in place to encourage public-private partnerships to provide funding andresources to train communities in ICT and DRM.Disaster management authorities need toencourage community leaders and telecentreoperators to be receptive to having telecentres aspart of national DRM capacity-building. Telecentreoperators need to participate in preparing andpromoting the use of their telecentres for DRM.Training in ICT and disaster preparedness wouldenhance the capacities, capabilities and readinessof communities to utilize ICT for DRM and otherpurposes.  Encouraging community involvement and keeping the information base up to date  : Policies should bein place to encourage community involvement andincrease awareness of disaster risks. Policiescould include resource or monetary incentives toencourage the community to be involved indisaster management processes, including drillsand risk assessment. Such policies should alsosupport community leaders to take an active role inguiding their communities towards becoming moreinvolved in the processes. Engaging thecommunity and informing them about what theystand to lose could inspire them to keep theircommunity’s information base up to date. Telecentres for DRM as critical facilities  : Criticalfacilities are elements of the infrastructure thatsupport essential services in a society. Theyinclude, among other things, electricity, water,telecommunications equipment, hospitals andhealth clinics, transport systems, and centres forfire, police and public administration services. 8  Telecentres with DRM functions should beregarded as critical facilities that guarantee theavailability of services for disaster management. Toensure that the data and information collected byDRM processes are available pre- and post-disaster, policies and resources should be in placefor the provision of emergency ICT and power-generation equipment. There should be provisions toback up and store the collected data in a separate areaso that the information can be retrieved if the telecentreand the information bases are destroyed. In a disasterscenario, having agreements with service providers forthe recovery and availability of connectivity within anacceptable amount of time from the loss of the servicewould ensure that emergency communications andupward disaster reporting could continue. Going one stepfurther, having agreements for contingency cases inwhich recovery is not immediately possible would allowfor alternatives to be planned and implemented.Arrangements for the provision of spare ICT equipmentand a facility to store this equipment and from which todeploy it in a timely manner could supplement theavailability of telecommunications connectivity. ____________________________  1   Global Alliance for ICT and Development, “ – scaling up for global success” (2008-2009), accessed telecentreorg/tabid/878/language/en-US/Default.aspx.   2   Geeta Sharma, “Mission 2007 in India: every village aknowledge centre”, Information for Development  (September2004), accessed 3   New Age National  , “UNDP project plans 40,000 telecentres by2011 for rural people”, 14 August 2007, accessed 4   Seuwandi Yapa, “Curriculum development for the telecentre.orgAcademy in Sri Lanka”, Telecentre Magazine  (June 2009),accessed articles/article-details.asp? 5   Asian Disaster Reduction Center, “Total disaster riskmanagement – good practice” (2005), accessed n s/TDRM2005/TDRM_Good_Practices /GP2005_e.html. 6   National Remote Sensing Centre, “Village Resource Centre”,Indian Space Research Organisation, accessed 7   Swayam Shikshan Prayog, “One year after tsunami”, Disaster Watch, Tsunami update  No. 6 (26 December 2005), 8   PreventionWeb, “Terminology: critical facilities” (2009),accessed terminology/v.php?id=7816.   This Policy Brief on ICT Applications in the Knowledge Economy has been prepared by the Information and CommunicationsTechnology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division of ESCAP to provide a brief introduction on selected ICT applications, identifyissues for implementation, and provide policy direction for the promotion of the applications. For further information on this PolicyBrief, please contact: Mr. Xuan Zengpei, Chief, Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division(e-mail:  
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