Sleeping easy along the shore: Going the Last Mile with hazard warnings


October 8 is the International Day for Disaster Reduction. The United Nations system observes the day ‘to raise the profile of disaster risk reduction, and encourage every citizen and government to take part in building more resilient communities and nations’.

Disaster risk reduction (abbreviated as DRR) is the common term for many and varied techniques that focus on preventing or minimising the effects of disasters. DRR measures either seek to reduce the likelihood of a disaster occurring, or strengthen the people’s ability to respond to it.

DRR is not just another lofty piece of developmentspeak. Unlike many other development measures that are full of cold statistics and/or hot air, this one directly (and quietly) saves lives, jobs and properties.

And it gives people peace of mind – we can’t put a value on that. That was the point I made in a blog post written in December 2007, on the third anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Taking the personal example of J A Malani, an ordinary Sri Lankan woman living in Hambantota, on the island’s southern coast, I talked about how she has found peace of mind from a DRR initiative.

‘Evaluating Last Mile Hazard Information Dissemination Project’ (HazInfo project for short) was an action research project by LIRNEasia to find out how communication technology and training can be used to safeguard grassroots communities from disasters. It involved Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka’s largest development organisation, and several other partners including my own TVE Asia Pacific. It was supported by International Development Research Center (IDRC) of Canada.

Recently, IDRC’s inhouse series ‘Research that Matters’ has published an article about the project. Titled “For Easy Sleep Along the Shore: Making Hazard Warnings More Effective” its blurb reads: “In Sri Lanka, a grassroots pilot study combines advanced communication technologies with local volunteer networks to alert coastal villages to danger coming from the sea.”

The article has adapted a lot of the information and quotes I originally compiled for a project introductory note in April 2006.

The outcome of the project’s first phase, which ended in mid 2007, is well documented. My own reflective essay on this project is included as a chapter in our book Communicating Disasters: An Asia Pacific Resource Book, published by TVE Asia Pacific and UNDP in December 2007.

TVE Asia Pacific also made a short video film in late 2007. Called The Long Last Mile , it can be viewed on YouTube in two parts:

The Long Last Mile, part 1 of 2:

The Long Last Mile, part 2 of 2:

The recent IDRC article ends with this para: “A related challenge concerns the shortness of any society’s attention span. In the absence of frequent crises and alerts, how can a nation — or even a village — sustain the continuing levels of preparedness essential to ensure that, when the next big wave comes rolling in and the sirens sound, its people will have the motivation and the capacity to act? The follow-up project seeks to address this worry by preparing the hotels and villages to respond to different types of hazards, rather than only to the relatively rare tsunamis.”

Watch this space.

Download pdf of IDRC’s Research That Matters profile on Last Mile Hazard Warning Project

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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