Daviot Kelly, Staff Reporter
In 2012, 139 million people were affected globally by natural disasters, the lowest figure for the last decade, however, Jan Gelfand, head of programmes and operations, Americas zone of the International Federation of the Red Cross, said that people with the least access to technology are the most vulnerable to disasters.
"Although the overall number of people affected decreased, the number of people affected in low human-development indices, increased, with over 31.7 million people affected," he said.
The revelations came while giving an overview of the World Disaster Report 2013, which was launched in Jamaica on Friday at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston. The report focused on technology and the future of humanitarian action. Gelfand opined that new applications of technologies to humanitarian action may be the most important factor influencing humanitarian effectiveness over the next decade.
"Technology is already making valuable contributions to humanitarian action; it helps us build resilience," he said. "It facilitates citizen participation and creates opportunities for people to empower themselves."
Local rescue efforts
He noted that 90 per cent of lives saved after disasters are by local people, but 90 per cent of those persons are not equipped with life-saving technologies and information. Gelfand said in order to maximise the technological opportunities, various partnerships needed to be made. He opined that people's communication needs are often given low priority.
"Governments and humanitarian agencies ... must fully commit to and invest in developing tools, policies, and strategies that improve dialogue with disaster-affected communities." He lamented that access to technology was deeply unequal. He cited that Internet use in developing countries is 31 per cent compared to 77 per cent in developed nations. Gelfand said agencies needed to develop protocols, standards, and best-practice guidelines for new technologies.
Another panellist, Dormah Harrison of the Jamaica Red Cross, said by 2016, it was projected there would be 10 billion mobile connecting devices, but he cautioned the various stakeholders to make sure the systems critical to running the devices are functional. He said they had to be mindful of contingencies, or they would run the risk of not being able to offer the best service.