Telecom infrastructure in India may soon get disaster-resilient standards

CDRI is working with telecom players to ensure sector's infrastructure is less vulnerable to natural disasters

Telecom, Telecom sector
Power infrastructure in the country already follows statutory standards for safety but telecommunications does not.

Telecommunications infrastructure in the country will soon have international standards that will make these resilient in times of natural disaster.

Power infrastructure in the country already follows statutory standards for safety but telecommunications does not. As part of the global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has initiated discussions with the telecom players — Bharat Sanchar Nigam, Airtel, Reliance Jio, and Vodafone Idea — to develop standards for the sector.

Kamal Kishore, member, NDMA, said loss of towers was only 3 per cent during the Cyclone Fani earlier this year. But that was because these have only eight-hour-long power back-up and the power supply had snapped.

Restoration took a lot of time. Besides, there was damage to optic fibre cable while trees were being cleared.

“We have to look at infrastructure in a systematic way and whether the existing standards are future ready. In telecommunication, we will be working out standards. There are ways of managing risks and losses. If you spend 3 per cent extra you get 20 per cent more resilience. Where specific risk cannot be assigned, then you bear that loss. Where there is probability, take insurance and have a risk pool,” said Kishore.

Standards would be both prescriptive as well as performance-related that ask for resurrection in a time-bound manner.

The CDRI, conceived over 2018-19, involves consultations with more than 35 countries. It is a partnership of national governments, United Nation agencies and programmes, multilateral development banks and financing mechanisms, the private sector, and knowledge institutions that aim to promote resilience of new and existing infrastructure systems to climate and disaster risks, thereby ensuring sustainable development.

According to Kishore, mortality during natural disaster is going down in most parts of the world but livelihood impact is huge.

“We have to go beyond from saving life to saving livelihood. Investment in infrastructure is huge. In the next 20 years, more infrastructure will be built than what was done in the last 200 years. So it is important to get it right in the first go,” he said.

Traditionally, when you build infrastructure, it is based on data of past 100 years for risk and sustainability, but the next 100 years are not considered.

Kishore said certain segments of infrastructure, such as telecommunication, lack experience and standard. Lessons need to be absorbed quickly.

The CDRI secretariat at NDMA has hosted two international events where it engaged with 40 countries and academic institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Asian Development Bank to come up with a framework. The focus is on risk assessment, standards and regulations, finance and post disaster recoveries.

For India, CDRI is also focussing on power sector and things like underground cabling in distribution of power could be one way. A project in coastal Odisha will cover distribution, transmission, generation and supply chain to support power generation.

“In power sector, there are certain standards that are already prevalent like those laid down by the Central Power Research Institute in Bangalore but we have to see if they are adequate for the future,” he said.

According to Kishore, there were two factors while planning for infrastructure--one is the state of resilience and second, the preparedness to recover. “You cannot have infinite resilience. There will be events that exceed design parameters. It could be earthquake, floods and landslides.

Different segments of infrastructure do not have the same level of criticality. For instance, one road or bridge connecting a remote area maybe more critical than a road to a place that has connected by other modes, too.

“In our response to disaster, we are doing well but when it comes to saving livelihood, we have to do a lot more. Like people demand swift action from National Disaster Relief Force, there will be social demand for reliable infrastructure. For disaster risk reduction, this is the next level,” said Kishore.

Within two to three years, the coalition aims to have a three-fold impact of achieving considerable changes in policy framework of member countries, future infrastructure investments and high reduction in economic losses from climate-related events and natural disasters across sectors.

The CDRI follows the UN Agenda 2030 principle of “leaving no one, no place, and no ecosystem behind, focusing on the most vulnerable regions and populations, while enabling inclusive and deliberative processes that recognize national and local efforts as primal”.