UN stresses key role of communications in mitigating impact of disasters

UN stresses key role of communications in mitigating impact of disasters

Aware that communications can make the difference between life and mass death in a natural disaster, the United Nations today opened a four-day workshop for the Asia-Pacific region to streamline that key element in the overall strategy to mitigate the impact of natural catastrophes that it launched after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The workshop, co-organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Bangkok, is part of the agencies’ efforts to build capacity on preparedness for disaster communications, particularly in those countries which are prone to natural disasters.

It will focus on improving rapid response in emergency situations, especially in least developed, developing and small islands developing States in Asia and the Pacific.

Delegates will discuss disaster threats, strategies and initiatives for improved disaster response as well as assistance required to improve disaster management in their countries.

The UN has put disaster risk reduction on the front burner ever since the tsunami, when experts said scores of thousands of the more than 200,000 dead could have been saved if early warning systems had existed and allowed them to escape to higher ground in the hours between the earthquake that triggered the giant waves and their landfall.

Since then it has played a major role in developing early warning systems, not only for the Indian Ocean but other vulnerable areas as well, based on quake and tidal sensors, alarm networks ranging from radio to cell phones and text-messaging, and disaster preparedness training to ensure timely evacuation of vulnerable coastal areas.

But the best sensors and alarm systems in the world are useless if the message does not reach the people literally on the front line of the disaster. As a result, the workshop which includes not only delegates from Member States and officials from UN agencies but also experts from international organizations, Government agencies, civil society and telecom companies.