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A pilot scheme testing mobile phone messaging as an early warning system for natural disasters in underway in Bangladesh.

The country has signed an agreement with mobile phone operators Grameenphone and Teletalk to provide 'early warning alerts' to its 46 million mobile phone subscribers.

Unlike normal text messages, which go into message boxes, the warnings flash automatically on the phone's screen without users pushing a button — making the system user-friendly.

Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones and storm surges because of its low-lying position. It has an effective warning system run by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society using 42,000 volunteers to cycle around villages advising evacuation. But this service does not cover the most remote villages — where people often have no idea that disaster is heading their way.

The initiative will be trialled in two of the most vulnerable areas over the next six months, with the aim of expanding the scheme across the country.

Millions of people in Bangladesh have been affected by natural disasters. In 2008, Cyclone Alia killed more than 170 people and left millions homeless.

Link to full article in Reuters India