Bangladesh in SMS cyclone alert system trial

Published 24 June 2009

Thousands of people in Bangladesh die each year as a result of cyclones; the government is testing am SMS disaster warning system

Bangladesh is testing a text message service to warn people of natural disasters, including floods and cyclones, a government official said earlier today. Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Bureau spokesman Syed Ashraf told AFP the service would be piloted for six months in the southeastern districts of Cox’s Bazar, where cyclones frequently hit, and Sirajganj in the north, prone to flooding. “The SMS messages will be sent warning people of floods or cyclones. They’ll be told whether to go to shelters and what to do,” he said.

Some 300 people were killed when Cyclone Aila hit southern Bangladesh and West Bengal in India on 25 May, though the pilot for the scheme had been planned for some months and was not being trialled in areas affected by the latest storm. Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Bangladesh — with a population of 144 million people — has a booming telecommunications sector with an estimated 44 million people owning a cell phone.

In 1970, around half-a-million people died in a cyclone; an estimated 138,000 people died as a result of a cyclonic surge in 1991 and 3,500 people died during a cyclone in November 2007.

The lower death tolls in recent years are attributed to a network of cyclone shelters and a warning system introduced after the 1970 disaster.