Tackling Africa’s Floods – A Call for Mappers! | Bridget Smith; Michael Mann

In a world where you can make phone calls from your watch and donate rice to the hungry by knowing vocabulary words, it's easier than ever to make a difference. Sometimes it can seem like all doom and gloom - sea levels are rising, the United States faced a record number of "megadisasters" in 2017, and temperatures in Jacksonville, FL were colder than those in Anchorage, AK. The good news, is that technology gives us the chance to help the world without having to un-bundle from blankets, dig out from under snow, or even take a shower (it's not too good to be true, promise).

One of the environmental challenges facing communities across Africa is the threat of flooding. Lots of communities are built along rivers, relying on the water source for agriculture, transportation, and drinking water. This is great - until a flood occurs. Many of these communities are very isolated, and do not have strong emergency response plans in the event of a flood. Flooding devastates towns, displaces populations, destroys agriculture, and spreads dangerous diseases. Until recently, it was very difficult to create strong emergency plans - and to even know which communities were most vulnerable.

The Red Cross in Togo, West Africa

YouthMappers has teamed up with The George Washington University, the World Bank, and the Red Cross to help communities better prepare for floods! Using satellite data, volunteers across the world can go online, and help generate data for international organizations trying to help.  The World Bank and The Red Cross are already using this data to help them target their interventions.

The first half of this project starts with the World Bank. The World Bank is using this data to prioritize where to invest in upgrades for hydro-power dams. Many of Africa’s dams are showing signs of aging, with greater and greater risks to communities downstream each year.  There’s one major problem: there is very little information available on how many people live in these remote areas. As you might imagine, often isolated rural communities are not accurately captured in national census data, and because they are so remote, international groups who gather that sort of information have difficulty reaching these areas.

At the end of the day though, flooding doesn’t discriminate based on how rural or urban a community is. People living in these vulnerable communities face substantial flood risk, but often do not have the same type of support offered to more urban locations. As a step towards a solution, the World Bank is using OSM data created by this project to figure out where the greatest risks are. As a mapper, your job is to help us trace these communities so that there’s digital data available for these analyses - often, the first data of its kind in the world! Click here to join the cause!

The second half of this project focuses on disaster preparedness and response. The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, in collaboration with national Red Cross Red Crescent Chapters, is using the data mappers create to design and implement emergency plans for these communities. Because many of these communities are so isolated, there are not robust flood emergency plans available - that means that, should a flood occur, people have nowhere to go. There’s no preset evacuation point, no prepared supplies, and no long-term recovery plan.

Luckily, one of the things that the Red Cross specializes in is designing disaster preparedness and relief plans. Once we have accurate data about where people live - and where buildings are located - the Red Cross can use that information to design detailed plans to help protect these communities. The data you create can be used to develop maps of the areas, to run analysis on flood risk and vulnerability, and to help isolate crucial components of disaster response, like evacuation points. Your work could literally be the difference between life and death in some of these areas. Your contributions can make all the difference: click here to join the cause!

Finally, while tasks are confined right now to specific test sites in Africa, this plan isn’t limited based on geography. This project is designed to be scaled up to encompass vulnerable populations across the world, and to help increase the resilience of these populations to disasters like floods. These are often communities who could lose everything - livelihoods, heirlooms, families - should disaster strike. Your work helps us level the playing field, and ensure that everyone, no matter where they live, is safe from disasters.

~ Bridget Smith, Class of 2016 and Michael Mann, Assistant Professor of Geography at The George Washington University.

Open Data for Resilience Initiative Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre YouthMappers World Bank GFDRR

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