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Effective disaster management to rely on state-of-the-art ICT
Caribbean Forum outlines road map for mitigation and preparedness

Issued simultaneously by ITU and CTO

Geneva, 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 project’s 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.

    Focusing on the vulnerable

    The poor are most at risk in the event of natural disasters and bear the brunt of any catastrophe. They are also the first to be further marginalized as overall development and economic growth suffer major setbacks in the aftermath.

    The Doha Action Plan adopted at ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference 2006 focused attention on emergency telecommunications in least developed countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). "A number of initiatives are already off the ground," said Cosmas Zavazava, Head of ITU’s unit for Least Development Countries, Small Island Developing States and Emergency Telecommunications. "One of the key elements relates to the promotion of ‘emergency telecommunications readiness’ rather than to response and relief." The Caribbean region is the first to initiate a high-level event to tackle the issue, and this will be replicated in other regions, Zavazava added. This follows successful deployments of satellite terminals in Suriname following catastrophic floods. Prior to this, deployments had been made in a number of Asian countries following the tsunami and in Pakistan in the aftermath of this year’s devastating earthquake.

    Chairman of CTO, J. Paul Morgan applauded the cooperation between ITU, CTO and the Office of Utilities Regulation, Jamaica, in organizing the event which provided a platform to exchange ideas and facilitate the development of a Regional road map for improving the use of ICT in Disaster management. "ICTs are the key to saving lives and property because they enable the collection and timely dissemination of accurate information on acts of nature," Mr Morgan said. "All of us must remember that acts of nature only become natural disasters when we do not prepare to mitigate their effects. I'm looking forward to the follow up event so that we can chart the progress that has been made on the agreed actions from this inaugural forum. Indeed with the information and best practices gathered from our previous Asian forum and future Pacific and African events next year I believe that the 2007 conference will be even more important in shaping the region's planning."

    Attending the event were senior government and telecommunication regulatory officials, private sector organizations, Caribbean donor groups and senior regional coordination and intergovernmental bodies, as well as disaster management agencies from the Caribbean region such as the Caribbean Telecommunication Unions (CTU), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), Caribbean Association of National Telecommunication (CANTO), Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management of Jamaica (ODPEM), among others.

    For further information, please contact:

    Mr Sanjay Acharya
    Chief, Media Relations and Public Information
    ITU
    Tel: +41 22 730 6135
    E-mail Contact
    Mr Cosmas Zavazava
    Head
    Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and Emergency Telecommunications
    ITU
    Tel: + 41 22 730 5447
    E-mail Contact

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    Updated : 2006-09-29