Grassroots IT solutions to disasters

Civic Action18 Jun 2009Thea Hilhorst

I am still at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction talking about early warning and early action. One panel presenter stated that local people are more open to IT solutions than the average intellectual. Poor people in South Asia told him they manage to respond to cyclones because their relatives in the US watch the weather forecast and send a text-message when they may expect a cyclone. A beautiful example of globalized everyday disaster response!

The panel where the story was told reported on research that asked thousands of civil society and grassroots representatives how they view the implementation of the global framework for action on disaster risk reduction that was drafted in 2005 in Hyogo. The title of the report is: “Clouds but little rain“. It was taken from a quote by a respondent who stated that: “The people I work with every day see many clouds – international initiatives and plans, but very little rain – actual change at the frontline.” The quote pretty much sums up the findings of the research. Global policy initiatives from above hardly trickle down to where disasters actually happen. That makes the on-the-ground responses of people that need to cope with disasters all the more interesting. Text-messaging has, by the way, also become indispensable in international meetings like this Global Platform. Everybody here is walking around with their mobile in hand, and we exchange dozens of messages a day with other participants to find each other, to tell friends what panels are interesting, and to mobilize people for dinner in one of the Geneva restaurants.