A Country at Risk: Building Resilient Mobile Infrastructures for Disaster Preparedness & Response in Nepal

Nepal has experienced a significant number of natural disasters including floods, landslides and earthquakes. Kathmandu in particular is widely regarded as an at-risk location for a natural disaster to strike; seven earthquakes rocked Nepal during August 2012. Its location on a major fault line at the meeting point of two tectonic plates, coupled with weak infrastructure, overpopulation and low government capacity results in high levels of vulnerability and the potential for a high impact catastrophe. The country is further weakened by its recent emergence from a decade of civil war, and a large proportion of the population live in poverty.

The most serious earthquake experienced so far this century was in 1934, and measured 8.4 on the Richter scale. Another is predicted to strike central or western Nepal in the near future. A survey conducted by Kathmandu Valley Earthquake Risk Management Project (KVERMP) predicted that 40,000 casualties and 100,000 serious injuries could result from the next major earthquake to strike the country, and experts suggest this number could be even higher. The survey also estimates that 6 out of 10 buildings would likely collapse, 95% of water supply pipes would be damaged, 50% or bridges and 10% of roads could collapse. The survey also identifies that schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure are also likely to be seriously impacted as building codes launched in 1994 have not been followed, materials are sub-standard and buildings are not reinforced. Experts predict that the next earthquake to strike Kathmandu could have even more devastating consequences than the Haiti earthquake of January 2010. The UN Resident Coordinator in Nepal, Robert Piper, noted, “Haiti at least had a port, and Nepal isn’t located 500 miles off the coast of Florida.”[1]

Legislation in Nepal, such as the Natural Calamity Act of 1982, has historically focused on response and relief without providing guidance on emergency preparedness and building resilience. The Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium (NRRC) was launched in 2009 to combat this, based on the Hyogo Framework and Nepal’s National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management also developed in 2009. It aims to bring together humanitarian and development partners, the private sector and representatives of key agencies of the Government of Nepal in order to reduce Nepal’s vulnerability to natural disasters, and includes representatives of the UN, IFRC and a range of donor agencies. In addition to protecting critical infrastructures such as schools and hospitals, protecting against flooding and boosting community and institutional capacities, the NRRC seeks also to enhance the Government of Nepal’s preparedness and response capabilities at the national, regional and local level, in part through strengthening resilient mobile phone networks.

National operator NCell have taken the initiative and developed a range of technical solutions to the threat of an impending hazard through their Disaster Preparedness Program in order to maximise the robustness of the infrastructure, protect employees and reduce network disruption. The program includes pre-identified points of contact within each section of the network, emergency backup communications devices, regular drills and a redundant network system to ensure that if one network fails, an alternative is available. NCell are also using earthquake resistant buildings, robust base stations on hills tops surrounding the Kathmandu Valley and ensuring that battery backup power is available to all sites. Mobile solutions are also deployable to replace damaged based stations or provide extra capacity to ensure networks can cope with damaged hardware and increased demands. NCell also have the capacity and the willingness to disseminate early warning messages to populations likely to be affected, and more coordination is needed with the NRRC and with national government structures to ensure that appropriate information can be sent in time to protect the population.

In light of increasing threat of catastrophic natural disasters, the GSMA Disaster Response Programme aims to support operators to collaborate effectively with national governments, humanitarian organisations and international bodies to protect mobile infrastructures and affected populations, and to ensure that communications networks remain resilient in the face of these threats.

[1] Kunda Dixit, Nepali times: “Not if, but when”: http://www.nepalitimes.com.np/issue/2011/01/14/Nation/17841/print#.UE4ZgaDc92k


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