Flash floods have long posed challenges for The Gambia. They destroy crops, wash away homes and, if you’re unfortunate enough to live among the poorer communities or along its canals, they can bring up sewage and even crocodiles.
Flanked on three sides by Senegal and split seemingly in two by its namesake, the Gambia River, as it pushes its way towards the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, and one of the poorest. With the climate crisis, flooding is no longer relegated to just the June-October rainy season. And the kinds of technology needed to predict and therefore prepare for the deluges that regularly wreak havoc on its key agricultural and tourism industries have long been a financial impossibility.
Now, a unique South-South initiative that marries technical experience, professional training, and community engagement is changing the dynamic. Funded by the India-UN Development Partnership Fund and implemented by UNESCO in partnership with the country’s Disaster Risk Management Agency (DRMA), The Gambia has received the kind state of the art equipment and training that can change, and save, lives.
Increasing flood resilience through an early warning system is at the heart of the project. Beginning in 2019, the project began the development of a Flood Early Warning System (FEWS), designed as an open data-handling platform to provide forecasting and warning capabilities. These efforts include the use of specialised meteorological data collection stations, professional development for effective analysis and response, and the installation of automatic weather stations and the training of Gambian hydrologists and meteorologists to gather and assess real-time data. Among the activities to ensure student and community engagement were a Mobile App Development Competition with students and youth, and the development of a school curriculum and complementary workshop to integrate the curriculum into the early childhood, lower and upper basic school curricula.
However, state of the art technology is only as good as the humans who manage and interpret the data it produces. And it is here that The Gambia’s African neighbours have made the difference. The project supported the attendance of professional training of 15 technical staff working in disaster risk for a week-long training programme led by two experts from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, ranked as Ghana’s and West Africa’s top university. During the programme, the technicians learned the key skills needed to feed information on terrain topologies into the FEWS to ensure up-to-date information for accurate flood forecasting.
The Fund also provided the DRMA with five drones, an increasingly vital tool in disaster risk prevention and mitigation. The DRMA engaged the Senegal Flying Labs, a leading robotics and AI technologies centre, to train and certify Gambian drone operators. And in one of the truest expressions of South-South cooperation, the Labs continued its support outside its formal commitment.
“The Senegal Flying Labs trained the drone operators and certified them as drone pilots. But we have gone beyond this by continuing to support the NDMA with advice on technical activities and even in drone maintenance, all without direct intervention from UNESCO, but through the trust and friendship that developed during the training activity. This shows that we can strengthen weaker member states through regional organizations who can be encouraged to build friendship and trust to continue to build friendship and trust to continue to support weaker members in subject areas where they have comparative advantages in or are more advanced in terms of technical knowledge and skills.”Anthony Maduekwe, UNESCO’s Programme Specialist for Natural Science in West Africa.
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