Thursday, June 28, 2012

Using information and communication technology to protect Africans against natural disasters via the World Bank: In February 2000, intense flooding left hundreds of thousands of people homeless in the African nation of Mozambique. The cause: a tropical cyclone and heavy rainfall which many experts attributed to the effects of climate change.

More than a decade later, February 2012 turned out to be a turbulent month for the island nation of Madagascar with Cyclones Giovanna and Irina battering the country one after the other, impacting more than 300,000 people and causing widespread flooding, landslides and severe damage to homes and businesses.

Across Africa, coastal cities are seeing the worst affects of climate change-induced hazards like flooding and drought, because of their proximity to coastlines or large bodies of water. And the urban poor are most heavily impacted.

"Poor communities often spring up in the least-desirable, highest-risk locations in flood zones along rivers or seacoasts with weak infrastructure and poor sanitation," said Gaurav Relhan, an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) specialist in the World Bank's Africa Region, and author of a new report on ICTs, Cities, and natural disasters in Africa: Municipal ICT Capacity and its Impact on the Climate-Change Affected Urban Poor: The Case of Mozambique.

To help people lessen and, when possible, prevent the severe effects of climate change-induced emergencies, more cities in African countries are turning to ICTs. Geographic Information Systems (GIS), for example, are helping local governments identify flood zones on maps, measure communities' vulnerability to flooding, and plan for new flood-prevention infrastructure like drainage systems and levees. Through mobile phones, citizens are being alerted via SMS texts to coming floods or cyclones. And Early Warning Systems are simulating weather patterns and predicting disasters in advance. These tools, according to Relhan, can play a pivotal role in ultimately saving lives and lowering recovery costs.

In Madagascar, where access to up-to-the-minute weather forecasts is limited, local communities currently rely on low-tech approaches to help warn of disasters. The 'town crier' system, administered by the National Bureau for Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC), currently is the main system for alerting rural communities in advance of cyclones. As part of the system, a village leader walks through the community ringing a bell and shouting warnings and instructions....

Cyclone Giovanna comes ashore in Madagascar, February 14, 2012. Shot from NASA

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