Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sustainable Crises

The US National Climate Assessment and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) both recently signaled a heightened sense of urgency for dealing with global warming. The general message was: climate change is having very real, observable effects on the weather, agricultural production, and important ecosystems, and we're already paying a heavy price to fight it.

A particular focus in both reports was the high cost of severe weather events, which are increasing in number and intensity as the world warms. And many in the development community, governments, academia, and the private sector are turning their attention to strategies for mitigating the costs and improving resource management after these events. Past disasters have shown that quickly re-establishing phone and Internet connectivity is critical to the efficient deployment of food, water, medicine, and shelter. While some governments have increased their investments in disaster preparedness, the ability to coordinate a response after large-scale events is often dependent on a diverse set of public and private service providers. Network operators are in the best position to work with governments and aid organizations to restore communications, locate the missing, and track relief efforts. But the ownership and use of private data, the responsibility for rebuilding infrastructure, and the profit motive are thorny issues that can put operators at odds with governments and aid organizations.

The development community can serve as facilitator, influencer, funder, and lead builder of a sustainable (or at least more efficient) model for coordinated, multi-sector disaster relief. Each of these roles demands more resource-efficient programs, better integration, robust technology platforms, and implementing organizations that can successfully complete multi-dimensional projects in the field. The case for taking these measures is heating up along with the rest of the world.

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