Bangladeshi Villagers to Get Mobile Phone Alerts for Floods

Villagers living in vulnerable areas of Bangladesh will soon get warnings of impending cyclones and floods on their mobile phones, a government spokesman said Wednesday.

The new system is intended to save lives in the poor country often plagued by extreme weather.

With the number of mobile phone users on the rise, the government recently signed deals with two major phone operators to send instant alerts on cyclone or flood forecasts to their customers in the southern Cox's Bazar and central Sirajganj districts, said Golam Kibria, a spokesman for the Disaster Management Ministry.

At least 28 million people live in the two districts, though Kibria could not say how many of those had mobile phones.

Privately owned Grameenphone and state-run Teletalk will operate the pilot project for six months, from June to November — the months most prone to monsoon rains and tropical storms.

Kibria added that if the mobile phone warning system proves effective, it may be expanded to other areas.

Bangladesh is buffeted annually by cyclones or floods. Villagers are now warned to seek shelter through radio and television bulletins and over loudspeakers by trained volunteers — who travel through villages usually on bicycles.

The South Asian nation of 150 million people has more than 40 million mobile phone subscribers. Grameenphone has over 20 million customers, while Teletalk has about 1 million.