Bangladesh trials disaster alerts

Tens of thousands of mobile-phone users in Bangladesh are to receive warning of impending natural disasters through an alert on their phones, Reuters reported. The initiative will give people advance notice “that they are likely to face flooding or a cyclone,” allowing them time to evacuate their homes, Syed Ashraf, a communications specialist for the country's disaster management bureau, told the news agency.

One of the world’s most densely populated countries, Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including cyclones, storm surges, droughts, floods and earthquakes. In an effort to minimise deaths and property damage when a disaster strikes, the authorities have signed an agreement with two phone companies to provide the early-warning alerts.

Grameenphone and Teletalk will send instant messages to their subscribers in two of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable areas – the north-central Shirajganj district, which is prone to flooding, and the Cox’s Bazar district on the coast, which is vulnerable to cyclones.

Bangladesh has a population of about 162 million, with more than 46 million mobile-phone subscribers. The disaster-warning messages would not come in the usual SMS format going to message boxes, Ashraf said, but would flash automatically on phone screens.

A trial of the system is being conducted over the next six months, with the intention of expanding it countrywide. Currently, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society has 42,000 volunteers who travel with bicycles and megaphones to warn of impending disaster, but some more remote areas and not covered by that system.

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