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 Thursday, 28 September 2006

The International Telecommunication Union along with the Commonwealth Telecommunication Organization (CTO) organized a three-day Forum 26-28 September on Using ICT for Effective Disaster Management. The meeting at Ochos Rios, Jamaica adopted a road map for better coordination in the use of state-of-the-art information and communication technologies (ICT) aimed at improved disaster preparedness and mitigation. This includes:

  • formulation of appropriate policies

  • deployment of appropriate technologies

  • ratification and implementation of the Tampere Convention for free movement of technical equipment in case of disaster

  • capacity building for users of ICT services and applications

  • establishment of national platforms that help countries to be ready to use ICT when disasters strike

  • development of common regional strategies on integrating ICT in all phases of disaster mitigation: early warning, preparedness, response and relief

  • Speaking at the opening session of the Forum, Mr Philip Paulwell, Minister of Industry, Technology, Energy & Commerce of Jamaica, reiterated that the Caribbean countries are among the most vulnerable areas in the world to tropical cyclonic events. "Following the 2004 Ivan hurricane disaster and Emily in 2005 it became evident that the lack of communications was one of the significant weaknesses of the regional disaster management framework," Mr Paulwell said. "Both intra-agency communications as well as public information have been identified as requiring improvement." He added that we should "move forward through the creation of an effective process for the development of early-warning information using ICT and media broadcast technologies, develop a publicly accessible website containing real-time disaster monitoring information, and implement a regional database of survey results and findings for selected disaster events to support the projectís engagement with policy-makers."

    The three-day forum focused on improving early-warning communication and disaster preparedness in the Caribbean region, developed practical tools to augment national disaster management strategies and initiatives, built effective relationships among national and regional stakeholders in effective disaster management and mitigation, assessed the impact of recent disasters and discussed the role of ICTs in disaster risk prevention, preparedness, relief and reconstruction.

    Still reeling from the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane season, the most active and destructive in history, experts in the Caribbean region decided to look the storms in the eye and prepare for future disasters. In 2005, a record number of 27 storms and as many as 13 hurricanes pounded the vulnerable Caribbean coastline. These included Hurricane Wilma, the most intense in recorded history, and Katrina, the most destructive with an estimated USD 50 billion in insured damage.

    Access to information is of paramount importance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster for relief agencies to coordinate search-and-rescue, medical intervention and rehabilitation efforts. There is an urgent need to establish effective and comprehensive communication links between the affected area, national disaster response facilities, and with the larger international community. This is particularly important for countries with fragile economies and countries with special needs, such as least developed countries and Small Island Developing States.

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