–By Narayan Prasad Ghimire –

Kathmandu, March 18: It has been nearly one year Nepal was struck by the double devastating earthquakes which claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 23,000 people, while damaging properties worth hundreds of millions of rupees. People however are gradually back to business despite paucity- tents, makeshift houses, shelters, damaged offices, as reconstruction drive is yet to gain stream.

The loss of lives and properties in the earthquakes forced many- from government to civil society to international donors and development partners- to review the lack of preparedness and the faulty preparedness at times, so that disaster risks could be mitigated in the future.

Expansion of information and communication technology (ICT) was not only the issue talked much post-disaster, but it remained vital during the earthquake. The use of social media as Facebook and twitter and the State-owned radio, and the community radios played unforgettable role to flow information to the panicked people living outside their homes.

Despite the damage of buildings residing radio stations and the disruption of internet with snapped cables and broken poles, the radio operators and the internet service providers were forced to realize that they were not the business service providers but critical service providers which resulted in the quick resumption of their services.

With such issues in the background, the Asia-Pacific Bureau of the Internet Society organized a daylong conference titled INET Kathmandu under the theme: Learning Lessons from Nepal-Embracing ICT for Disaster Management, here on Friday.

Multifarious ICT issues related to the disaster preparedness and management were raised and debated at different sessions throughout the day. The conference saw the participation of 150 people from diverse sectors of ICT in the country and from abroad.

Champion of the wireless network and Magsaysay winner, Mahabir Pun, said wireless network can be useful not only in natural disaster but also in human-made disaster. He was saying this referring to the royal coup of 2005 and the Maoist insurgency, during which he was struggling to innovate the project of wireless network in the hilly district- Gulmi. He pointed out the need of digital literacy programme to bridge the digital divide. The rural areas in Nepal have only three percent of people out of 44 percent that use the internet.

Mr Pun argued that the use of internet in 2G and 3G mobile telephone sets does not mean the expansion of the internet infrastructure and reach in the country.

Similarly, Asia-Pacific Coordinator of the AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters), Suman Basnet, said, “Local radios are the most prominent manifestations of ICT in Nepal for disaster management ecosystem.”

Dr Rajib Subba from Nepal Police shared that 3.8 million Nepalis were presently in Viber. He heartily appreciated the role of social media to help make government agencies accountable to the public. Mr Subba also shared the incident that how a commoner’s tweet had compelled the Nepal Police to inspect the damaged houses after the earthquake, and check the buses fleecing the passengers. The argument he made during the discussion was- Nepal was not poor but lacked the materialization of technological innovation.

Moreover, Deputy Director of the National Society for Earthquake Technology, Surya Narayan Shrestha, said the Gorkha earthquake was limited in terms of severity and intensity. For lack of power and internet, all accelerometers did not function well; and the slow internet impeded the data transfer, he added.

Nuwan Waidyanatha, senior fellow at the Early Warning System and Emergency Communication, China, suggested Nepal for the improvement of emergency communication services, resilient ICT structures and robust infrastructures for better disaster preparedness.
During the inaugural of the conference, Minister for Information and Communications, Sherdhan Rai, said the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 40 percent of the disaster that occurred across the globe. ICT should be best utilized to reduce disaster and for quick rescue and recovery.

Reminding the last year’s devastating earthquakes, Minister Rai lauded the role the media played to disseminate information about the disaster. The quick flow of information through the internet and social media helped in search and rescue, he added, hoping that the deliberations throughout the day could be decisive to formulating relevant policy.

Other issues discussed during the conference were simplified emergency communications, consolidated emergency communications system, unified use of ICT, most sought issues on social media, need of responsible communication training, collective efforts with resources, coordination and information during disaster, internet phenomena a cause behind emergence of new kind of society, experience of business service providing becoming critical service provider during disaster, and initiative for the Asia-Pacific information superhighway, among others.

(Source: The National News Agency –RSS)