World’s first app on debris management

Kathmandu, October 4

Nepal has made a breakthrough in development of an easy-to-use debris management application, which could be used globally to create a database of damage caused by disasters, volume of debris created by disasters and number of workers required to clear the rubble.

If this application, designed by the United Nations Development Programme, in collaboration with Microsoft’s local partner, MIC Nepal, is fully rolled out in the country, work related to management of debris created by earthquakes of April and May can be carried out with a smartphone.

“We’re happy we were able to make one breakthrough. We hope the app will connect people during reconstruction process, help us make decisions and share knowledge on damage caused by disaster and make reconstruction work efficient,” said UNDP Deputy Country Director (Programme) Sophie Kemkhadze, who pushed the idea of using technology in the aftermath of earthquakes that killed around 9,000 people and damaged or destroyed over 600,000 public and private houses.

Creating database of infrastructure damaged by devastating quakes was a lengthy and tiresome process. Officials and volunteers had to visit each and every house, jot down names of owners, their contact details, exact geo-position of the infrastructure, and length, breadth and height of the structure. Also, information on whether the infrastructure had to be demolished and whether deconstruction had to be done manually were required.

All these records were initially documented on papers before they were stored in Excel or other electronic sheets. And if these papers were blown away by a gust of wind, rendered useless by rain or simply misplaced, the assessments had to be done again.

Now with the introduction of the application dubbed ‘Debris Management Programme’, whoever is on the field to conduct assessment can create a database by simply using the smartphone. The collected data can be stored in the phone or on cloud if the area has access to internet.

Also, one does not need to do much of typing while inserting data, except when adding unique information like names of people.

For instance, names of districts and village development committees can be selected from the drop-down list, while pictures of damaged structure, house owners and land deeds can be stored automatically upon taking them.

To find the exact location of the property, one can simply turn on the GPS function in the smartphone. “But if internet is not available then one will have to use external GPS tracker, which most of the engineers and people assessing damage carry with them,” said Dan Strode, UN’s project manager for debris management, who has previously worked in disaster-hit areas of Indonesia, India, Myanmar, Haiti and the US.

Another beauty of this application — which operates on Windows platform — is that it asks for information on length, breadth and height of the damaged infrastructure, along with width of the wall and materials used in construction of the infrastructure.

Once these data are inserted, the application automatically gives information on the volume of debris the demolition will create.

“This information helps us calculate how much money needs to be spent to clear the debris,” said Strode.

This information can further be used to ascertain number of workers required to clear the debris. And once the workers are hired, their database can be stored using this application.

This database then can be used to keep the attendance of workers, who are given unique QR codes. And to prevent workers from taking undue advantage of the application, photos of workers who have appeared at the workplace will be cross-checked with those stored in the database.

“We have already discussed the possibility of using this app throughout quake-hit areas with the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development,” said Kemkhadze, adding, “We are mulling over developing similar app for housing reconstruction as well.”