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Managing disaster response through mobile: focus on the Asia Pacific region

November 17, 2016 | Disaster Response | East Asia and Pacific | Jenny Casswell

The Asia Pacific is the world’s most disaster-stricken region, with natural disasters alone accounting for over 340,000 deaths in the last twelve years. The region is diverse, experiencing varying degrees of economic growth across sub-regions, with markets in South Asia having some of the fastest growing economies in the world, despite poverty remaining high. East Asia accounts for nearly two-fifths of global economic growth, but this is expected to ease with the relative slowdown of the Chinese economy.

In addition to varying levels of economic development, diverse geography and population density make effective disaster preparedness a challenge for all responsible actors across the region.

 
What is the role of mobile network operators in the disaster-prone Asia Pacific region?
One of the key sectors stepping up to the challenge of mitigating against disaster risk and implementing innovative services for disaster response is the mobile industry, with mobile network operators (MNOs) playing a critical role. With the population of the Asia Pacific region predicted to rise to 4.4 billion by 2020, and 3G population coverage expected to be at 92% by 2020, MNOs are uniquely positioned to provide a lifeline for those affected by natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies, as outlined in a recently released report by GSMA Intelligence.
 
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Source: GSMA Intelligence
 

We have frequently witnessed how MNO networks have facilitated access to information and coordinated assistance within affected populations and among Governments, first responders and the international humanitarian community in the face of disasters. In a workshop in Myanmar in September, convened for Asia-Pacific based signatories and partners to the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter (HCC), MNOs shared their experiences and innovative services that seek to both prepare for, and respond to disasters. Among those leading the way in creating innovative solutions are the likes of SK Telecom and NTT Docomo. Solutions include base stations on ships to provide connectivity when land networks are compromised, and drones to assess the impacts by providing real-time aerial views of roadways and damaged buildings, during the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

It is not only advanced technology that has enabled such leading innovation, but also the relatively mature and supportive regulatory environments in Japan and South Korea. Through the platform of the HCC the GSMA is continuing to share examples of industry best practice and guidelines (access our guidelines on regulation here) to strengthen disaster response efforts.
 
Big Data – use cases in Nepal and Pakistan
We are also beginning to see the value of the application of Big Data for disaster preparedness and response, as exemplified in Nepal, through a partnership with Ncell and Flowminder. Following the Nepal earthquake in April 2015, in which 3.5 million were displaced, an analysis of call detail records (CDR) provided information on population displacement patterns which was shared with the United Nations to facilitate response activities. Finding meaning and value in data is not easy and requires a perfect storm of the right partners and regulatory conditions, together with a clear problem statement and a niche set of skills. Telenor has harnessed Big Data to anticipate and track the spread of dengue fever in Pakistan.

Eight million people in the Asia Pacific region were displaced in 2015, according to UNHCR, demonstrating the importance of developing partnerships to analyse CDR records to improve response activities. Population displacement in the region has been the result of a wide range of disasters, from hydrological disasters, affecting 1 billion people in the past sixteen years, to geophysical disasters, accounting for nearly half the total damages caused by natural disasters in the same time period.

Find our guidelines on the use of CDR here, created in response to the West Africa Ebola crisis.

 
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Caption: Impact of recent disasters in the Asia Pacific region. Source: ReliefWeb
 

Mobile money for displaced people in the Asia Pacific region
Another way in which mobile technology can be used to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced populations is through digital cash transfers, including mobile money. The potential for mobile money to improve resilience against disasters, and livelihoods more generally is significant in the Asia Pacific region. There are 82 live mobile money services in 25 Asian countries, and up to 80% of the adult population is unbanked in some countries – not least in Pakistan and Afghanistan – two countries which also happen to be among the top 15 countries in the world at risk of disaster . Following our commitment at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul this year to offer expertise in mobile money and disaster preparedness and response, we are undertaking in-depth research to address the opportunities and challenges of mobile money in disaster-prone countries, to be released in early 2017.

There are a myriad of ways in which MNOs can be a lifeline to people in some of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. To find out more about the region’s disaster risk landscape and examples of innovative solutions being developed by the industry to prepare and respond to disasters, with a specific focus on Bangladesh and Myanmar, read GSMAi’s latest report.

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