Information and stories on Natural Disasters

Uses_of_Tech_for_ Disaster_Relief
Technology is increasingly being used as a tool of communicating with populations in times of disaster and disaster relief, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative reports. Here’s a list of the most practical uses of tech for disaster relief in the field:

1. In Times of Crisis

New means of communication, be it Twitter or mobile phones, have proven indispensible in times of emergency or impending crises. In times of health crises, like the cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone this past April, aid workers were able to reach thousands in a matter of seconds with vital, life-saving information. In the cholera case, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was able to send important warning messages and information to over 36,000 people in less than an hour.

2. Faster Deliveries

Texting in particular has played a large role in speeding up delivery and distribution of aid materials across the developing world. According to Action Aid, an NGO based in Kenya, sending a text message about an incoming delivery sped up distribution of given materials to the general population from 3 hours to 30 minutes.

3. Monitoring Food Markets

UN agencies have been able to monitor food distribution, availability, and prices by contacting and receiving information from informants in remote regions all by text message. Such communication has proven useful in countries like Somalia and Tanzania where food would be sent to those in need of assistance.

4. Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

More and more NGOs and UN agencies have turned to GIS to map out the location of damage and destruction of areas that suffered many causalities in times of crisis. These maps have guided aid workers to areas and peoples in need of help.

– Lina Saud

Sources: Irin News, Huffington Post, UN Dispatch
Photo: Cause Cast

Whenever conflict or disaster hits a particular region of the world, one of the logistical challenges which must first be overcome is getting aid to every person that needs it in the shortest amount of time.

For this reason, aid agencies are piloting new access technologies to provide innovative solutions to old problems. Here are five promising ideas that are already being tested in different parts of the world:

The first is a digital school in a box. In order to create an environment where children have access to quality learning anytime and anywhere, UNICEF is piloting the “Digital School in a Box”. Sixty schools in Uganda, with about 100 and 200 children, have been given a pack containing a solar-powered laptop with a speaker, a projector, a document camera and Internet connectivity.

The objective is to connect children in rural schools and health centers to outside learning networks and tools. The kit can also be used to connect rural communities to health resources, emergency information, and entertainment.

Mobile phones to monitor food insecurity are second. In areas where roads have been badly damaged, information concerning food availability can be hard to gather. To solve this problem, the UN World Food Programme has typically conducted face-to-face surveys to collect information on how many people lack access to food, who they are, and where they live.

Since this requires a considerable amount of time and resources, the agency is now using SMS polls to monitor food insecurity through simple questions concerning meal patterns. The solution is being piloted in the Democratic Republic of Congo and will soon be tested in Somalia as well.

Third is to use mobile phones to find missing children. In order to speed up the process of reuniting children with their parents after a conflict or disaster, UNICEF is piloting RapidFTR, an open-source mobile phone application. The result of a master’s thesis, the innovation allows aid workers to quickly upload the child’s vital information and photograph to a central database that can be accessed by other UN agencies and NGOs.

With the help of humanitarian workers that have authorized access to the database, parents can verify if their missing children have been registered. Uganda Red Cross and Save the Children are currently testing the application in eastern Uganda, where many people from the Democratic Republic of Congo have sought refuge.

3-D printing spare parts is fourth innovation to help get aid to disaster hit communities. Although the cost of 3-D printing are still high, global experts are considering the possibilities of using this technology to provide disaster-hit areas in the developing world with access to things like irrigation pipes, farming tools, water pumps, wind turbine blades, spare parts for machinery, and health aids.

Since the digital model of any of these objects – which typically require significant time and money to be imported – could be downloaded and printed out, usually in thin layers of plastic at a time, innovators believe that low-cost 3-D printing could have many uses in the developing world. Last May, global experts met in Italy to discuss the implications of this technology for sustainable development.

The fifth and last innovation is the standardized data collection for feeding programs. In order to provide feeding programs with a standardized method for data collection that can be used for admissions and discharges, specialized software called Minimum Reporting Package has been devised.

Now in use by Save the Children UK, WFP, and Concern Worldwide, the innovation allows agencies to better monitor the efficacy of Supplementary Feeding Programs, as well as quickly deliver standardized information to donors and governments in times of crisis.

-Nayomi Chibana

Sources: IRIN, Humanitarian Innovation Fund, World Food Programme
Photo: The Virtual Underground

North Korea Flood
Throughout the month of July, North Korea has been struggling with severe rainfall. In turn, the United Nations has sent food in order to help the North Korean flood victims.

On July 11, in central areas of North Korea, there was as much as 20 centimeters, or nearly 8 inches of rain. As a comparison, the state of California sees 17.28 inches of rainfall every year. Hawaii has 23.47 inches.

North Korea saw in one day nearly half of the average yearly rainfall in California. Even the state with the most rainfall per year – Louisiana – only has 59 inches per year. So 8 inches would be about 1/7th of Louisiana’s yearly rainfall. It was devastating to the country.

As of July 15, over 750 people were homeless due to the flooding, while two people had been reportedly killed. The flooding has destroyed large areas of farmland in multiple provinces of North Korea, including South Hamkyong, North Hwanghae, and Kangwon.

The farmland that was severely damaged ranged across over 1,700 acres. This puts incredibly pressure on the agricultural sector of North Korea. The flooding has created shortage of crops and food within the country, leaving many people to face starvation. In July 2012, there was worse flooding – 88 people died and 62,000 people were left without homes.

However, this year, the damage has become nearly as devastating as last year’s floods. As of August 6, over 30 people have died while nearly 20 are missing, almost 50,000 have become homeless, and 10,000 (nearly 25,000 acres) hectares of farmland are damaged, and 1,000 (nearly 2,500 acres) hectares of crops are ruined.

Unfortunately, the floods of 2012 left North Korea’s agricultural sector nearly beyond repair. North Korea does not have the technology and infrastructure in order to survive when faced with natural disaster. The country will certainly face crop failure, food scarcities, and other problems within their country due to these unavoidable and devastating floods.

Experts believe the 2013 floods will have “a longer term impact on food security” than last year’s floods; other issues that are arising are the failing of early crops, like potatoes, and concern over public access to water that is safe.

Thankfully, North Korea is not alone in facing these problems. Indeed, the international community is already beginning to come together in order to give aid to those who are facing problems due to the flood, such as hunger and homelessness.

For example, the United Nations, through the UN’s World Food Programme, said that they have officially begun sending aid to North Korea. The aid includes emergency rations of maize to the major flood victims. They will be sending 460 tons to the afflicted country.

The aid will reach about 38,000 people who are living in the areas that have to deal with crop devastation. This is incredibly helpful, since it would be giving emergency aid to those who are forced to fight hunger and the lack of food security. 400 grams will be given to each individual each day for a month.

Another international organization that has come to the aid of North Korea is the International Federation of the Red Cross Crescent Societies (IFRC). They are providing relief aid to the areas that face the flooding, which involves doing whatever is needed within the actual areas of the flood, such as medical care.

Overall, the United Nations is providing a short-term solution to an emergency situation, which will be incredibly helpful to the thousands who will no longer be devastated by hunger. However, there is still much to be done on the long-term for North Korea, and hopefully, the international community will come together in order to help a struggling country.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: Times of India, Global Post, Flood List, Between Waters
Photo: Update News

Famine and drought are often considered one and the same. It is easy to think that where there is drought, there is certainly famine or that where there is famine, there must be drought. The truth of the matter is that the difference between a famine and a drought is huge. Famines and droughts are caused by various conditions and factors that sometimes have nothing to do with the other.

Drought may be defined in three ways. That is to say, there are three kinds of drought. Meteorological drought is a reduction in rainfall below a certain level that is scientifically considered to be a drought. This kind of drought may occur in the course of a season, month, or even day. If it rains less than a specific amount, over the specified amount of time, you have meteorological drought.

Hydrological drought may be caused by meteorological drought, but it need not necessarily be so. This kind of drought occurs when a body of water, such as a stream or lake, falls below a certain amount. For example, in a dry year, meteorological drought may lead to hydrological drought in a stream, when the stream runs much lower than it usually does. Likewise, hydrological drought may exist when the source of a stream is blocked or severed.

Agricultural drought occurs when there is a significant reduction in crop yield, such that it may fall to a certain level considered to be a drought. This kind of drought may be caused by meteorological and/or hydrological drought, but may just as easily stem from insufficient access to fertilizer or some other necessary ingredient to produce yield.

Famine, on the other hand, is caused by a decline in availability of and/or access to food often caused by one of the three kinds of drought. Where there is insufficient water to produce a staple crop, for example, or where there is insufficient fertilizer to produce the standard yield for a crop, drought may lead to and certainly cause famine. Yet, it is not necessarily the drought that causes such a famine.

For famine to occur, there must be insufficient availability of or access to food. Though there may be some kind of drought one year, adequate food management of the available crops may effectively prevent famine. This point highlights the importance of access to food. On that note, inadequate management of a drought may lead to famine because families with less purchasing power, say, are unable to gain access to the available foodstuffs.

Though famine often does follow drought, it is not necessarily a cause and effect relationship. Rather the difference between famine and drought lies in the complexity of this relationship and the conditions and factors that surround local circumstances, as well as government and community responses to drought. The difference between famine and drought is therefore dependent on what causes the drought and how communities handle their food supplies.

– Herman Watson

Sources: Preserve Articles, The Borgen Project, World Vision, Edward Carr
Photo: Business Insider

In 1986, Barry La Forgia embarked on a mission trip to Peru where he helped construct shelters for those burdened by poverty in the Amazon Jungle. Following the experience, he returned to San Diego, left his real estate and law practices, and, in March of 1988, formed the Southwest Medical Teams, which would later be called the International Relief Teams.

The organization was designed to link people in need with teams of individuals who had the skills to meet those needs. By the end of 1988, volunteer teams were sent to Oaxaca, Mexico to build a healthcare clinic, to Jamaica to provide care for the victims of Hurricane Gilbert, and to Armenia to treat victims of one of the largest earthquakes of the century.

Today, International Relief Teams (IRT) is a relief organization that assists victims of neglect, poverty, and disaster. The organization focuses their efforts on four areas: medical education and training, surgical and clinical outreach, building healthy communities, and disaster relief. By combining short-term relief efforts with long-term programs, International Relief Teams ultimately works to save and change lives.

IRT has proven to be effective in choosing appropriate responses to emergency situations and disasters so that its resources can be used in the most efficient way possible. Since it’s founding, IRT has deployed 405 disaster relief teams, a total of 2,328 volunteers, to aid victims of disaster both here in the U.S. and abroad. More than $89 million in emergency supplies and medicines have also been delivered to those in dire need.

The higher quality health care offered by medical professionals who were trained through IRT’s training and medical education programs in emerging countries has saved the lives of many. Since 1994, IRT has directly trained over 800 instructors in Russia, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Vietnam, who have then passed on this training to over 18,000 of their colleagues.

Since 1988, it has deployed 207 teams of clinical and surgical specialists to several countries, including Mexico, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea. These teams have changed lives through the procedures they perform, such as restoring sight to those suffering from blindness and performing corrective surgery on individuals suffering disfigurement from accidents or birth defects.

In remote regions of the world where extreme poverty is a way of life, receiving medical treatment or life-changing surgery remains a far-off dream. IRT, however, is fighting to change that.

– Ali Warlich

Sources: International Relief Teams, Charity Navigator
Photo: Rescue

This past January, Mozambique experienced massive flooding which took the lives of 70 people, left hundreds homeless and impoverished, washed away bridges, and left little soil to grow corps. This was the worst flooding in 13 years.

“I helplessly watched all my cattle disappear into the red sea of rushing floodwater while our family house was collapsing, leaving us with the clothes on our backs,” said Rofina Mathe, a mother who lives off sustenance farming. “Now we are wondering what the future has in store for us.”

The Climate Investment Funds’ Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) has provided funding to Mozambique in the amount of $91 million. PPCR is helping Mozambique prepare for future extreme weather. The hope is that the money will go towards enhancing infrastructure that will help the people of Mozambique be more prepared when a flood occurs.

PPCR efforts aim to upgrade 7 meteorological stations and 52 hydrological stations this year. By 2015, the number of stations should increase to 35 and 71 respectively. There will also be policies to enable hydrological and weather data, as well as allow information to be shared among agencies and farmers. Furthermore the funds will go towards improving the early warning systems that warn locals about coming floods.

Since the floods, the government has increased the amount of Climate Investment fund money allocated to developing flood protection efforts and improving hydrological and meteorological services to $15 million from $10 million. The Norwegian government is providing an additional $4.5 million.

“It will be a big step (towards) climate resilience. We are moving towards investment where we want to prove that climate resilience is achievable,” said Xavier Chavana, coordinator of the program at the Ministry of Planning and Development. “The funding is coming at the right time because people will learn and be able to deal with climate change.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: Alertnet, IRIN Africa
Photo: ASEM