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[COLOMBO] Texting short messages through mobile phones could help in early warning of natural disasters in the Maldives, says a new report.

The technology, called cell broadcasting, helps to deliver messages simultaneously to multiple users in a specified area.

"In the case of the Maldives, if an early warning is introduced, it must be able to reach all of the outlying islands including tourists on resorts. With mobile phones quite ubiquitous, it may be an ideal time to introduce an emerging technology — cell broadcasting — for public early warning," says the report, 'Mobile Cell Broadcasting for Commercial Use and Public Warning in the Maldives', which was published last month (15 July).

It was prepared by LIRNEasia, a regional telecom policy and regulation think tank with expertise in disaster early warning, with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom.

Natasha Udu-gama, project manager at LIRNEasia, told SciDev.Net that a pilot project to test the system in the Maldives is being considered.

The 1,192 islands of the Maldives are prone to a number of hazards including tsunamis, earthquakes, flash floods, thunderstorms, tornadoes and waterspouts, strong winds, and drought.

The December 2004 tsunami that devastated much of its infrastructure highlighted the need for an early warning system — exacerbated by the growing threat of islands sinking due to climate change triggering rising sea levels.

Similar plans for cell broadcasting already exist in Bangladesh and the Netherlands. In Sri Lanka, an early warning system which includes cell broadcasting — alongside alarm devices — has been in place for two years.

"This system is in fully operative condition and ready for any emergency. But still we depend on a single network provider for cell broadcasting. We are discussing with others to enhance the capacity of the system," says Menaka Wijesinghe, assistant director at the Disaster Management Centre of Sri Lanka.