Developing warning systems and technology can save lives

Tino Kreutzer
In Liberia, solar panels are used to generate energy for media technology.
Image: Tino Kreutzer
World Disasters Report 2013
  • An annual publication in English with expert information and data on disasters.
  • Published by The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
  • The report launched 17th of October 2013 focuses on technology and the future of humanitarian action.

The Red Cross report reveals that the lack of information and technology has great impact on peoples’ abilities to prepare themselves, respond to and recover from disasters.

There is a wide ”digital gap” between different countries. This means that new technologies are beneficial for countries in high-risk territories when it comes to preparing for disasters and surviving from them.

However, most of the countries located in such hazardous areas do not have access to this kind of technology, which is a life-threatening problem. This is concluded by the Red Cross World Disasters Report, which focuses on technology and the future of humanitarian intervention.

Innovations like weather prediction software, satellite imagery and mass alert systems are advantageous for humanitarian work. Social media can also be used to gather information about where help is needed and what kind of situation the victims are in.

- At the turn of the year, typhoon Bopha affected 6.3 million people in the Philippines, and thousands of lives were saved because 90 % of the population had access to mobile phones. This way they could receive warnings and safety information through text messages, says Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC).

The Red Cross urges governments, the private sector, the humanitarian community and civil society to collaborate, so that both those helping and those in need of help have access to new technology. Previous partnerships have given good results.

- The International Federation of Red Cross and the telecommunications company Trilogy created TERA, an SMS text system, which was used on Haiti to send out hurricane warnings and other messages related to preparedness to three million people. The system has now also been built to Sierra Leone and the goal is to expand it to 40 countries. For this we need both private and governmental funding, says Ed Happ, who is Chief of Data Administration at the IFRC.

At the same time, the Red Cross warns, that as warning systems and technologies are being developed, we must not forget those who do not benefit from technology. If humanitarian agencies become too reliant on technology, they are excluding those who are outside these networks.

Disaster data: Number of disaster-related deaths lowest of the decade

The yearly disaster statistics are published together with the report.

During the year of 2012:

  • The number of deaths caused by disasters and the number of people affected by them was the lowest of the decade.
  • The number of deaths caused by natural disasters was 90 per cent below the average for the decade.
  • The total amount of natural disasters was among the lowest of the decade.
  • However, the expenses for natural disasters were the fifth highest of the decade.

In total, 552 disasters were reported worldwide in 2012, with economical losses of almost US$ 158 billion. Hurricane Sandy was the most expensive natural disaster, causing losses of US$ 50 billion. The deadliest natural disaster was Typhoon Bopha, which hit the Philippines in December, killing 1,901 people. Floods accounted for 53 per cent of the natural disasters and affected 139 million people. The most severe ones occurred in April and June 2012 in China.

For further information, please see the webpage of The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (