Since 2015, natural disasters are exponentially increasing in the African great lakes region (Burundi, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo). While the Lake Tanganyika coastal cities record their historical water advance, coastal and river floods causing hundreds of deaths, social economic facility destruction and thousands homelessness, landslides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes threaten millions of citizens in the cities of Bukavu, Goma, Kigali and Bujumbura.
However, with considerable progress and the stakeholders’ involvement in the disaster management, for most African countries in general (and especially the African great lakes region), the response capacity of these countries is still weak and operationally dependent on humanitarians’ logistical support. Furthermore, due to the lack of a national disaster emergency funding mechanism and basic infrastructures including roads, health facilities and security instability, victim outreach is the main challenge faced by both the relief actors and ad hoc governmental boards.
After the adoption of the United Nations Global Goals in 2015 that resulted in the setting up of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction endorsed by all member countries, national platforms dedicated to reducing the disaster risk were launched across the three countries. These aimed to prevent and mitigate disasters before they occur. Unfortunately, the operational and executional level of the strategic planning adopted by national platforms is very low as new disasters bring about new risks. The lack of referral data and funding hinder the overall disaster risk management process.
Applying the open data principles in enhancing the risk understanding and communication
Disaster Risk Management in Africa — DRM Africa was created and initiated with the aim to address all these issues by adopting an open data approach to improve the disaster risk management process in Africa. Our overall goal is to apply open data concepts in order to strengthen community resilience against natural and anthropic hazards.
The open data principles outline that people should have access to data, share them and make them usable for those who need them the most. The application of this approach in reducing the disaster risk fosters better understanding and sharing of the risk information to vulnerable populations. DRM Africa made use of the three dimensions of the risk concept (hazard, exposure and vulnerability), producing data about each of them, with the aim of better understanding the issue before communicating them through various formats.
Setting up open data-based early-warning systems in timely informing vulnerable communities
Early-warning systems play a crucial role in the disaster and risk management process. However, the system’s efficiency lies on positive citizen’s alerts perception, accuracy and the availability of time-sensitive information. The aim of DRM Africa is to collect and analyze information on the ground and share them with vulnerable communities through alerts, datasets, spatial data (topographic and GIS information), radio and TV mediums. We hope to be able to stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly volatile climate, connecting scientific information to the people who enact and enable practical action on the ground. The application of open data lowers the cost of the disaster reduction process as we are able to cover the region using available data and technology, from weather forecasts and case studies.
In 2021, DRM Africa adopted two priority projects dedicated to popularizing open data in the region, promoting the government’s accountability and the launch of the first regional open data platform hosting the regional risk data. The overall goal is to increase stakeholder engagement including governments using open data to address some of the challenges faced by countries in the region and thereby reduce the cost of disaster risk reduction processes. We have upcoming activities planned in support of four organizational pilot projects including: AgriDATA, DataCheck, Media Sensitive to Disasters and Open Data for Women.
DRM Africa recently endorsed the Open Data Charter. We expect that by joining this global community of data practitioners and reformers we can improve the use of open data in solving various pressing challenges the world is facing while paying particular attention to the under-reported and hard-to-reach world.