Disaster Warning using ICTs
Sarvodaya's community based approach
Theoretically, ICTs are supposed to enhance the quality of life,
bridge the digital divide and empower the poor and rural communities to
stand up on their feet. Theoretically.
But practically, things are different. There's always a fair amount
of marketing involved to get anything started and in the end it's human
beings who use ICT. And human beings are ignorant, unreliable and
super-saturated with vanity. So usually even if the ICT in question is
foolproof, the system will not necessary be so.
But a recent visit to Sarvodaya's Disaster Warning Hub left us with
fresh hope. LirneAsia together with Sarvodaya has put together a
disaster warning system that directly involves the villages in the
selected Sarvodaya villages.
When the Disaster Hub receives any sign of disaster from its sources
it will notify a villager who has been chosen by a number of ways.
A CDMA fixed telephone line is used to warn the villager. But in
times of a disaster the telephone lines are not always dependable.
Therefore 3 more Communication Technologies are used.
The Dialog Early Warning Network Remote Alarm Device (jointly done by
Dialog Telekom & University of Moratuwa) which is a kind of a fixed
device operates on a Dialog SIM card. What it does is that it let's out
a loud siren, a flashing light and a message that's displayed on its
small screen. It also has a receiver so when the villager picks it up on
his or her end it directly connects with the Disaster hub.
Then there's the WorldSpace satellite radio network. Sarvodaya has
given another set of villages this instrument and are trying to start a
separate radio station where educational programs and disaster awareness
programs will be telecast. But most importantly this also acts as an
alarming device. The villages are monitored by giving a number everyday
to type in and renew the connection with the disaster hub.
The third one is an impressive little phone software which gives off
a siren (not the normal ringtone) even when the phone is on silent mode
after which a brief description about the disaster would follow.
The backbone is a satellite internet connection called VSAT that
provides a reliable and dependable source of information and that can be
relied upon in a time of crisis.
The Human Factor
But technology is not the main reason why this disaster warning
system proves to be promising. It's the way that Sarvodaya has used its
community service as a way of establishing it in tune with the local
villages. When it comes to making a call to evacuate or take necessary
steps, it should be done so by a well respected and accountable party.
As well as by a strong voice that can get the message across without
So a voluntary group of youth were chosen from each village and were
given a training. They were to go back to their villages, make detail
lists of the inhabitants, tell everyone else what's going to happen,
look for an emergency evacuation area near - a area which is safe near
the village - and finally give the responsibility of calling for a
evacuation to a respectable village elder.
After the elder has been chosen and the equipment given him/her, the
disaster warning hub has been constantly keeping a log of messages
they've successfully sent across and if it wasn't delivered a log of the
reason for that as well.
So it's kind of like a centralized de-centralization of
responsibility. The success of the pilot program will be determined by a
test run that will be conducted by Sarvodaya, Lirneasia and all other
Technology for the Community
Most of the time the technology developed in other countries are not
directly compatible with our communities. Not only the language but also
the cultural aspects and even the design approach may be too foreign to
grasp. Especially when designing technology for the rural community
these facets should be considered over and over again.
After the design, the implementation also has to bear with the same
issues. Here there has to be someone who knows the technology well
enough and also someone who knows the community even more thoroughly.
Organizations like Sarvodaya can be of much value in this realization
For some, designing and implementing technology for the rural
community is a useless undertaking. "The rural people are lazy and they
don't know what they want. It doesn't directly boost the economy, and
it's a waste of energy, time and resources."
But once in a while, it's grateful to know that our IT professionals do
care about the rural community (specially when it came to the voluntary
work done in Sahana and etc) and it's grateful to know that there are
organizations capable of sending the message of technology across to a
community that needs the technology more than anyone else. Let's just
hope that these two can combine forces and work towards a better country
in the days to come.