The United Nations will launch an online disaster management forum on 19 April that will connect India’s National Disaster Management Authority, non-governmental organizations and relevant individuals in the private sector that form the backbone of response to catastrophic events in the country.
The network, which will be moderated by the UN staff, is expected to host discussion on natural calamities such as earthquakes and floods, and nuclear, biological, chemical and industrial disasters. It aims to provide a central place for organizations to share information about disaster prevention and preparation techniques, and response, rehabilitation and reconstruction and recovery plans.
“India is a disaster-prone country, so it makes sense to have a place where the people who respond to disasters can share knowledge,” said Maxine Olson, the United Nations resident coordinator in India, in a telephonic interview. “The need for preparedness and awareness is huge.”
When disaster strikes, the forum will convert into a place where aid and relief workers can post urgent queries and connect with those outside the disaster zone for quick answers, said UN officials.
The disaster management forum, details of which will be disclosed on 19 April, joins the UN’s other online information sharing networks for development professionals and outreach workers here.
Currently, the solution exchange forums connect 8,000 members on discussion boards, from maternal and child health to AIDS and microfinance, through employment programmes and communication strategies for grass-roots organizations. The themes are loosely organized around the goals in both India’s current five-year Plan and the UN’s millennium development goals.
“The solution exchanges are about sharing strategies and hands-on policies that work, not about opinions,” said Olson.
Discussions on the online message boards have had a direct effect on national policy in some areas. The National AIDS Control Organization used an online discussion on the AIDS forum to help formulate the third phase of its AIDS Control Policy, said Olson.
Funded by the development arms of the UK, Swiss and German governments, each community costs approximately $100,000 (Rs42 lakh) to set up, in addition to the expense of a staff member or two to oversee each individual forum, according to a UN official who is familiar with the project.
The UN has already expanded its solution exchange programme, which was piloted in India, to Bhutan. Indonesia is likely to follow with its own disaster management community to facilitate the sharing of knowledge about the ongoing recovery in the tsunami-affected areas, while Laos and Mongolia have expressed strong interest in starting up country-specific solution exchanges there, according to Olson.
In India, online solution exchanges on communicable diseases, clean technologies and forestry are also planned in the future.
The United Nations Development Programme is considering establishing a regional facility for Asia to support the country-based programmes, she added.