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in-focus

ITU to advance AI capabilities to contend with natural disasters


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies – has launched a new focus group to contend with the increasing prevalence and severity of natural disasters with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), the union said in press release on Tuesday.

In close collaboration with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the ITU Focus Group on AI for natural disaster management will support global efforts to improve world understanding and modelling of natural hazards and disasters. It will distill emerging best practices to develop a road map for international action in AI for natural disaster management.

The group's first meeting is scheduled for March 15-17. Participation is open to anyone interested.

“With new data and new insight come new powers of prediction able to save countless numbers of lives,” ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao said. “This new focus group is the latest ITU initiative to ensure that AI fulfils its extraordinary potential to accelerate the innovation required to address the greatest challenges facing humanity.”

Clashes with nature impacted 1.5 billion people from 2005 to 2015, with 700,000 lives lost, 1.4 million injured and 23 million left homeless, according to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 developed by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

AI can advance data collection and handling, improve hazard modelling by extracting complex patterns from a growing volume of geospatial data, and support effective emergency communications.

The new focus group will analyse relevant use of AI to deliver technical reports and accompanying educational materials, addressing these three key dimensions of natural disaster management, the press statement said.

Its study of emergency communications will consider both technical as well as sociological and demographical aspects of these communications to ensure that they speak to all people at risk.

“This focus group looks to AI to help address one of the most pressing issues of our time,” noted the chairwoman of the group, Monique Kuglitsch, innovation manager at ITU member Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute. “We will build on the collective expertise of the communities convened by the ITU, WMO and UNEP to develop guidance of value to all stakeholders in natural disaster management. We are calling for the participation of all stakeholders to ensure that we achieve this.”

Muralee Thummarukudy, operations manager for Crisis Management at UNEP, explained: “AI applications can provide efficient science-driven management strategies to support four phases of disaster management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. By promoting the use and sharing of environmental data and predictive analytics, UNEP is committed to accelerating digital transformation together with ITU and WMO to improve disaster resilience, response and recovery efforts.”

The focus group’s work will pay particular attention to the needs of vulnerable and resource-constrained regions. It will make special effort to support the participation of the countries shown to be most acutely impacted by natural disasters, notably small island developing states and low-income countries, the statement said.

“The WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme assists countries in protecting lives, livelihoods and property from natural hazards, and it is strengthening meteorological support to humanitarian operations for disaster preparedness through the development of a WMO Coordination Mechanism and Global Multi-Hazard Alert System,” WMO chief scientist and director of Science and Innovation Jürg Luterbacher said.

“Complementary to the focus group, we aim to advance knowledge transfer, communication and education – all with a focus on regions where resources are limited,” he added.

Published : February 10, 2021

By : THE NATION