The World Disasters Report 2013 finds that two-way communication and the provision of information are as necessary as food and water when responding to disasters. Technologies enabling information flow can mean the difference between life and death in disasters around the world.
New technologies offer many opportunities, but access to technology is deeply unequal. People least likely to have access to technology - poor people, uneducated people and women - are also the most vulnerable to disasters.
Download the World Disaster Report 2013 (pdf)
The study, produced by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, says improved access for local people to basic technologies, like early warning systems and mobile phones in disaster-prone communities across developing countries, would result in many more lives saved.
2012 saw the lowest number of deaths and people affected by disasters in the last 10 years: 90 per cent below the average for the decade. However, 52 natural disasters killed 9656 people and affected 138.9 million people. Natural disasters caused A$158 billion in damages.
Communication and information are fundamental to supporting communities to cope well with disasters. However, peoples' information and communications needs are too often considered a low priority, undermining humanitarian response.
The report recommends that Governments and humanitarian agencies must fully commit to and invest in developing the tools, policies and strategies to improve dialogue with disaster-affected communities.
Disasters in 2012
- 2012 saw the lowest number of deaths and people affected by disasters in the last 10 years: 90 per cent below the average for the decade.
- The number of disasters is also amongst the lowest of the decade. In all, there were 552 disaster events costing just under US$ 158 billion and with 139 million people affected. The most expensive disaster was Hurricane Sandy, which cost A$54.1 billion and the deadliest was Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, which killed 1,901.
- Although there were fewer disasters in 2012, the number of people affected in countries with a low human development index increased, with over 31.7 million people affected. All other categories decreased.
- Floods accounted for 53 per cent of the 139 million people affected by disasters in 2012, with the most severe taking place in China in April and June.
The digital divide
- There are more mobile phone subscriptions than people in Europe, but in low income countries only 42 per cent of people are connected.
- Less than one in three people in developing countries use the internet compared with three quarters of the population in high income countries.
- Computer ownership in Africa is just eight per cent, compared with 76 per cent in Europe.
Technologies are increasingly and successfully used in developing countries around the world, from Syria to Sierra Leone and the Philippines, to help communities better prepare for and cope with conflicts and disasters.
In Syria, digital data collection tools are being used to help deliver life-saving medical and other relief supplies in areas that remain inaccessible to international humanitarian agencies.
Red Cross is running the Syria Crisis Appeal to assist people affected by the conflict. To donate to the Appeal call 1800 811 700 or visit www.redcross.org.au/syriacrisis.
Photo: A villager contacts relatives after an earthquake in Pakistan, thanks to a satellite phone provided by the ICRC. (ICRC)