Floods: Early warnings save lives

Along the Mekong River, Cambodia, a house on stilts sits. On it is an early warning system that helps to predict floods, saving lives. Image credit: Thomas Reuters Foundation

In 2011 and 2013, floods in Cambodia took more than 400 lives, turned tens of thousands into refugees, and wreaked crops, ruined homes, and ravaged livestock.

But in 2017, despite the threat of heavy rains, there have been a marked decrease in casualties and far less damages, in part to automated water gauges, developed by Czech-based People in Need (PIN) alongside local partners, that alert an estimated 70,000 families to danger.

Sensors in the water gauges, which are powered by solar energy, keep track of the height of a river, and send the data accordingly to a monitoring system. When danger levels are hit, free text messages or calls are sent out to those who have registered for the service, alerting people and giving them time to pack their belongings and essentials before moving to safety.

“Too many times, communities in high-risk areas learned of the threat too late and lost everything,” Paul Conrad, Cambodia director of PIN, said to Thomas Reuters Foundation. “With extreme weather events becoming more frequent and erratic, access to real-time, accurate information can save lives and help build resilience among vulnerable communities.”

PIN, which utilises technology for social benefit, has focused its attention on Asia-Pacific (APAC), a region the most prone to natural disasters on the globe, as well as home to 20 per cent of the global population. Often battered with increasing frequent and intense disasters that range from droughts to floods, and cyclone and heatwaves, more and more countries in the region are turning to a number of action plans and early warning systems derived from the tsunami alerting system put into effect in the wake of the catastrophic Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami that occurred in 2004, and which claimed an estimated 250,000 lives.

Thus far, PIN has installed two sensors in Cambodia, and there are plans to add six more by the end of the year. According to Conrad, the organisation’s goal is to have sensors in all 25 provinces by 2019.

Over the course of a decade from 2005 to 2014, natural disasters linked to climate killed almost 225,000 people in the APAC region, according to the Asian Development Bank.


Source: Thomas Reuters Foundation