In remembrance of Ms. Katarina Mouakkid Soltesova, Programme Management Officer, Regional Office for Africa.
As climate change picks up speed globally, natural hazards increasingly threaten to impact local communities. To minimize this risk in the long run, tracking such disaster losses is of critical importance. To this end, funded by the European Union and led by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), 510, the data and digital initiative of the Netherlands Red Cross, cofacilitated a workshop to train government and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) authorities in Mozambique in the collection and application of disaster loss data.
What is disaster loss data and why do we need it?
When a natural hazard occurs, unmanaged risks can have severe, far-reaching consequences. Hereby, the term “loss and damage” refers to a disaster’s negative consequences, such as the destruction of infrastructure, habitats or stocks of goods, or the loss of livelihood opportunities. In the context of climate change, a distinction is made between an event’s tangible impact which can be expressed in monetary terms, such as the costs of infrastructure destroyed, and its intangible impact which cannot be expressed in this way, such as casualties or the impact of the disaster on (mental) health.
Information can be collected to measure a disaster’s impact, such as the number of people affected, the number of buildings destroyed, or economic losses. This is referred to as disaster loss data. To expand the availability and usage of disaster loss data, UNDRR is promoting a global initiative to build national disaster loss databases based on open-source software, named DesInventar, which is harmonized with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. A major goal of disaster loss databases is to identify disaster trends, such as more frequent or severe hazards in certain areas, or an increase in the population at risk. Based on these metrics, the effect of DRR interventions on decreasing loss and damage can be measured, and initiatives can be taken to protect the population ahead of future disasters.
This methodology also helps to measure the path towards a society’s resilience. A society resistant to natural hazards can absorb their impact, adapt to their changing frequency and severity due to climate change, and autonomously manage risks associated with potential future disasters. However, when information on loss and damage over time is not available, obstacles to understanding the progress towards societal resilience remain. Although data is being collected by an increasing number of stakeholders, this often remains inadequate to understand trends due to a lack of commonly agreed definitions, systematic data collection, legislation and funding to set up and maintain databases, and data sharing among stakeholders.
Mozambique: Making the collection of disaster loss data a team effort
These issues were also faced by Mozambican government authorities and the Mozambique Red Cross Society. While all of them have been collecting disaster loss data, they were looking for more standardized ways to maintain and share them among each other. The workshop in June 2023, co-hosted by UNDRR and the Mozambique National Institute and Disaster Management (INGD) and supported by 510, was attended by representatives from a range of relevant entities and aimed to encourage creating synergies, systematically sharing data across sectors, and identifying bottlenecks in stakeholder collaboration. The workshop covered important topics ranging from concepts around data ecosystems, to tools for using disaster loss data for anticipatory action.
The Mozambique Red Cross Society demonstrated its Early Action Protocol (EAP) for tropical cyclones as part of the workshop. Once the national meteorological office specifies the magnitude of the impending cyclone and the threshold of the EAP is reached, the release of materials, such as shelter tools, is triggered. The Mozambique Red Cross Society’s leadership then initiates further actions, followed by information being shared with the IFRC, provinces, volunteers and local banks for fund release. Early actions such as strengthening houses and water purification are undertaken, and communities are trained in preparedness and response activities, such as covering roofs in the event of extreme rainfall. The Mozambique Red Cross Society further coordinates with the government on cash deliveries to affected communities.
In 2020, 510 supported the Mozambique Red Cross Society with activating an EAP amid Tropical Cyclone Chalane. The EAP’s initial trigger threshold was solely based on windspeed, which presented challenges during this particular event as the forecasted windspeed fell just below this trigger threshold. To address this issue, 510 and IFRC co-developed a methodology through which impact can be calculated using the following formula: Impact = Hazard × Vulnerability. This impact estimation does not just rely on the severity level of the hazard itself, but also considers communities’ vulnerabilities to extreme weather events, allowing for more flexible conditions to activate the EAP.
During the workshop, the “Data Guardian Game” enabled participants to grasp the role of data in decision-making for anticipatory action. After introducing a hypothetical flood scenario, participants were asked to decide whether to activate an EAP, based on information from different agencies. The participants opted for different reactions such as allocating funds to national agencies, or fortifying houses based on a vulnerability map. This diverse outcome highlighted the importance of consulting various data sources and considering resource limitations when implementing anticipatory action.
While data sharing between the government and the Mozambique Red Cross Society can still be improved, the workshop helped participants identify pathways to better align in the future. It has been a bright example of how bringing multiple stakeholders together has the potential to increase the data available on disasters and disaster loss to a broader range of entities, which can lead to a country’s enhanced preparedness for, and resilience to, potential future disasters.
Notably, another component of the UNDRR-led project was a tabletop exercise held in May 2023, which 510 supported with the testing of anticipatory action protocols. The exercise enabled authorities to simulate damage assessments in response to Cyclone Ana which hit Malawi in January 2022. The availability of high-resolution satellite imagery in the event of a major disaster enables 510 to utilize its Automated Damage Assessment (ADA) Portal which collects and presents information on disasters where ADA was deployed. The goal of the dashboard is to demonstrate how an immediate assessment of satellite imagery of floods can be used to obtain a broad overview and determine the most affected areas. Combined with data on the areas’ pre-disaster vulnerabilities, responding teams are instructed on exact locations to be mapped in more detail with drone footage.
A report has recently been published within the framework of this project, containing an analysis of existing impact data ecosystems in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, and providing recommendations toward better impact data. You can find the report at UNDRR.org.