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16 Oct 2020 | CBFEWS

A successful flood early warning system from the Hindu Kush Himalaya travels to Africa

ICIMOD’s CBFEWS success inspires flood intervention project in Malawi

Debabrat Sukla & Shailendra Shakya

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A CBFEWS instrument installed in Siraha, Nepal. During monsoon, as floodwaters start rising below the bridge, the instrument sends information to nearby villagers. (Photo: ICIMOD)

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-supported project (starting in 2020) will be setting up low-cost community-based flood early warning systems (CBFEWS) in flood-prone districts of Malawi, southeastern Africa. Along with Sustainable Eco Engineering (SEE), we will be supporting the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in implementing this project, which will focus on flood monitoring and forecasting to enhance flood preparedness and risk reduction for vulnerable communities.

The UNDP project – formally named “Establishment of Community-Based Flood Early Warning Systems (CBFEWS) in Selected Districts in Malawi” – will identify community needs with respect to CBFEWS in eight selected districts. RCMRD with support from ICIMOD and SEE will design appropriate early warning systems to suit conditions and will build local capacity to ensure the system’s sustained use.


ICIMOD’s role

Our experience with CBFEWS goes back a decade, when we first set up a wire-based model in Jiadhal River in Assam, India. Through years of research and development, we upgraded the technology to a wireless system and now a telemetry-based system, providing real-time river water level data. The technology has made an immense impact for flood-prone communities across the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. The system was able to share life-saving information with communities along Gilgit River during the flood of 2017. Recognizing its potential in community resilience, a basket fund has also been setup for another system piloted in the Terai region of Nepal.

For the UNDP project, we will support the deployment of low-cost telemetry systems developed to gather flood data from rivers. We will also be training district officers on the system’s installation and on engaging with communities. The district officers can, in turn, train community-based officers at the district level, which will ensure the system’s long-term sustainability. SEE will manufacture and install the CBFEWS instrument. It will also help build technical capacity for the instrument’s maintenance at the local level.

We are currently working with RCMRD as part of a collaborative SERVIR project in Eastern and Southern Africa funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).


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