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A New Tool For Relief Operations in Pakistan

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October 19, 2005 — As relief operations continue in Pakistan, a new website has just been launched to help coordinate emergency assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people in need of aid.

The website - - is the result of a collaborative effort between people from the World Bank, the Government of Pakistan, academic institutions in the United States and Pakistan, as well as private enterprise.

RISE stands for Relief and Information Systems for Earthquakes Pakistan.

"The new website is like a command center information tool for relief operations," says Jishnu Das, an economist with the Bank's Development Research Group.

Das, along with colleague, Tara Vishwanath, a lead economist in the World Bank's South Asia region, were prime instigators behind the new website designed to provide information on damage and relief operations at the village level in Pakistan.

The website aims to give maps and the latest up to date information on some 4,000 villages affected by the earthquake - providing data about the villages' population and infrastructure such as roads and schools prior to the disaster.

A collaborative effort, the new website will allow monitoring of damage caused by the quake, as well as track needs and supplies at the village level.

But it goes one step future - aiming to provide up to date information about the situation at the village level after the earthquake such as those injured, needing medical assistance and what supplies like tents have been given to villages.

In an innovative move, the website is designed to allow the government, army relief operations, donors, and nongovernment organizations working as part of the relief effort to supply information about their work on the ground at the village level.

"When major natural disaster events happen, there is an immediate need for estimates of damage to people and infrastructure, which helps target and coordinate emergency relief," says Piet Buys, the geographical information systems expert at the Bank.

"The website features spatial population maps allowing us to integrate existing data from censuses, satellites, and topographic maps with information that comes back from the field," he says.

Das says at the moment, most of the information about the quake's impact is only available at a district level.

"There is no system which allows people to figure out which specific villages have been reached or how they're affected," he says. "Most of these affected villages are in rural areas. This will help ensure that all villages are on everyone's radar screens."

The website has been set up so that information from even the most remote village can appear in less than eight hours.

As part of the collaborative effort, the website was designed by Pakistan's largest internet provider, World Online, which operates under the brand name, WOL.

"In many disasters coordination is the biggest obstacle. We have the technology that can change that. We can get this right," says Aamer Manzoor, co-founder and vice-president of World Online.

"An information chain that starts on foot might connect to a relief worker with a cell phone and appear on the RISE portal within eight hours."

It's an achievement that's possible given the collaborative efforts as well from the Lahore University of Management Services, LUMS, which has students working to input the data onto the website.

"This has been an amazing spontaneous effort that's taken on a life of its own," Vishwanath says.

She says it was initially a conversation with her World Bank colleague, Jinshu Das, and two experts, Professor Asim Ijaz Khwaja of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and Professor Tahir Andrabi of Pomona College, that led to the website's creation.

Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority, known as NADRA, has also supported the website, by supplying geographical data. That's then been linked with the latest census from Pakistan and data from the Bank to give the most up to date information available on villages affected by the quake.

Donors, nongovernment organizations as well as the government and army relief workers are being urged to supply information to help ensure the new website is up to date.

Professor Andrabi says there are various means by which the information can be passed on.

"People can provide information by directly uploading the data on, sending us text messages, faxes, emails, or even by phone," he says.

Vishwanath says the website has support from the Government of Pakistan, as well as from the World Bank's Country Director for Pakistan, John Wall.

"This spontaneous collaboration has become much bigger than just a few people," she says.

"People came together and everyone quickly realized the promise of such a website."

John Wall says at the moment everyone involved in the website is "running on adrenalin."

"We all need to ensure that the portal remains an important link to long-term reconstruction efforts in Pakistan," he says.

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