Saturday, July 7, 2007

India: Early warning systems installed

From the website of World Vision, “a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice”: Disasters like the recent monsoon floods in China and South Asia may only make the news for a few days, but the real story lasts substantially longer.

Loss of life and property, injury and death, hunger and disease – then a slow and painful recovery hampered by personal trauma and depression, lost incomes and livelihoods, lack of protection or legal support. When, as so often happens, disasters strike in already poor communities, there is another devastating loss – the loss of progress in development.

In India, environmental degradation is increasing vulnerability to disasters like earthquakes, floods, cyclones and drought across the nation. In 1988, 11.2 % of total land area was flood prone, but in 1998 floods inundated 37% geographical area.

Most of the areas where World Vision works in India are regularly at risk from natural disasters, in particular flooding. The results of several years of hard work - homes, school buildings, crops and food stores - may simply be washed away. Villagers live in fear of monsoon season and its potential impact.

Disaster preparedness has long been a part of development work in these communities, but now World Vision plans to take advantage of new technology in disaster-prone development areas. For the first time, satellite weather warnings will give villagers a chance to react and respond before the disaster strikes.

The system works through a simple local computer network connected to television, internet and the local public address system. During times of alert, all weather reports are aired in local language through multiple loudspeakers, plus the internet is monitored for latest weather patterns.

As backup, World Space Radio technology connects the early warning centres together, able to submit messages as well as send computer files. This means warnings can be communicated to many destinations even if internet communications have failed.

Once completed, it is hoped the system will cover as many as 5800 villages in several different states of India. As well, disaster preparedness activities include an introduction to alternative crops and livelihoods, identification and strengthening of roads, riverbanks and buildings prone to damage, and regularly rehearsed evacuation and response plans with community volunteers.

With this year’s monsoon season already wreaking havoc across the region, systems like these will help to soften the blow for some of India’s most vulnerable communities.

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