Around the world, natural disasters and their impacts have been on the rise. Developing countries are especially vulnerable to floods, droughts, and other extreme events. Malawi is among the most at risk. The Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), through its NASA/USAID supported SERVIR-Eastern and
Southern Africa initiative, helps nations like Malawi use geospatial technologies to reduce disaster risk and enhance capacity in disaster management. The development of a National Hazards and Vulnerability Atlas for Malawi, launched along with a web based visualization tool on 18 August 2015 in Lilongwe, Malawi, is a prime example of their approach.
SERVIR-Eastern & Southern Africa Disasters Program Lead Denis Macharia presents during the launch
RCMRD/SERVIR collaborated with the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) in Malawi, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and others* in developing the Atlas. It is intended to minimize impacts of disasters by identifying vulnerable communities and characterizing areas at risk for hazards such as floods, droughts, forest fires, and vector-borne diseases (Malaria). The Atlas features analyses and mapping of historical hazards, climate trends, and communities’ susceptibility to climate hazards and ability to adapt to them.
“The idea is to prepare communities so that they should know the vulnerable areas,” said DoDMA Principal Secretary Bernard Sande during the launch. “In so doing, they should be able to take the necessary measures to reduce or indeed to avoid some of the disasters.”
In her opening remarks at the launch ceremony, UNDP Environment Cluster Team lead Ms. Sithembiso Hlatshwako noted that the Atlas will “inform key decision making processes and ensure that vulnerable ‘hot spots’ are targeted, with appropriate disaster mitigating and climate adapting development interventions, so no area or community is left behind.”
The Atlas is freely available as both hard and soft copy plugged into the web visualization tool, while the geodatabase, maps, and other GIS related products will also be available from the Malawi Spatial Data Portal (MASDAP) and SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa Geoportal.
These products “will serve as living interactive mapping tools, which can be consistently updated and continuously used in the future to accurately locate and pin-point vulnerabilities to hazards throughout Malawi, at both National and District level, when new and updated information is captured,” stated Ms. Sithembiso.
They are expected to be especially useful to government, non-governmental organizations, local communities and other stakeholders for disaster risk management activities, land use planning, and other programs.
“This is the very first time such tools have been developed for Malawi,” continued Ms. Sithembiso, “and it is our hope that the Government finds these products useful, and they serve as key reference items to inform improved disaster prevention and preparedness, as well as climate adaptation and food security interventions and decisions.”
Attendees at Launch of National Hazards and Vulnerability Atlas for Malawi
Speaking at the ceremony, RCMRD Director General, Dr. Hussein Farah stressed the importance of Earth observations in providing solutions to problems affecting communities in the region. He noted that NASA satellites, in particular, have proven very useful for various applications — especially in disaster risk reduction.
For example, in January 2015, SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa worked with the Surveys Department and DoDMA to provide technical assistance when the country experienced the worst floods in history. In response to the floods, experts at the SERVIR hub provided imagery and assisted these agencies with analysis of satellite data from NASA and other partners such as the Dartmouth Flood Observatory (see http://servirglobal.net//Global/Articles/tabid/86/Article/1386/). Farah looks forward to use of the Atlas and associated tools for similar support to the region.
“It is my sincere hope that this Atlas and the other products developed from this work will contribute to sustainable development in Malawi and to the resilience building of the populations and communities vulnerable to hazards and generally, to climate change.” said Dr. Farah.
Sande thanked everyone who contributed to creation of the Atlas, saying its development would not have been possible “if it were not for the support and contributions from many stakeholders at different levels who provided input. In particular, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to RCMRD for the technical support as well as to NASA and USAID through the SERVIR program, for their financial support.”
Such support included 3 training workshops in which RCMRD/SERVIR experts trained 20 Trainers of Trainers (ToT). These ToTs were drawn from various government organizations and NGOs in Malawi. Denis Macharia, SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa Disasters Program Lead, explains SERVIR’s approach.
David Ongo, an expert from the SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa hub working with the trainees in one of the workshops held in Lilongwe, Malawi
“When we went to Malawi for an assessment, we learned about many consultancies that have been carried out in the country. These consultancies have produced data and information that are rarely used by national experts/users. The main reason given is that quite often consultants do their work in isolation, without involving national experts sufficiently for them to learn the processes and interact with products or data produced from the consultancies. We decided to use a different approach — that of forming a co-development team. The objective was to ensure, right from the start, that key national thematic experts were actively involved in the project.”
During the training workshops, for example, participants generated maps that formed key inputs into the Atlas.
“In addition, we involved the experts in collecting ground data, e.g., from NSO (Demographic and Health Surveys), and had the experts lead the products validation exercises. During one of the workshops, we took the experts through the Atlas and demonstrated how to use the web visualization tool.”
The SERVIR hub is already looking forward to replicating these tools to assist the government of Zambia, which has also requested development of hazard and vulnerability products for the country.
*Department of Surveys, Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Environmental Affairs, World Food Program, Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, National Statistics Office, Department of Water Resources, Land Resources Conservation Department, World Bank, Department of Geological Survey, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Department of Forestry, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Ministry of Transport and Public Works, Malawi Red Cross Society, and COOPI.