First impressions: Mapping flood and droughts for better preparedness and planning
By Raul Glotzbach
11 December 2015 | Blog
For many basins around the world, the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and communities are becoming more and more visible, prompting a strong need to improve capacity and planning around extreme events such as floods and droughts.
To contribute the use of information about floods, droughts and future scenarios into planning across scales; from basins to water utilities, DHI and the International Water Association (IWA) held a 3 day technical training in Bangkok, giving key stakeholders a first impression of a computer software-based decision support system (DSS) being developed in the Flood and Drought Management Tools (FDMT) project.
The event was the first of a series of trainings planned to enable users to consolidate information that can be used to make decisions on how to prepare and respond to extreme events. This DSS will consist of a number of tools that can support institutions within basins to address impacts stemming from flood and drought events.
When thinking of the Asia-Pacific region, my head is flooded with the idea of hour long down pours and monsoons. The thought of the region as drought prone barely crosses my mind. During a visit to Thailand during the inception phase of the FDMT project in 2014, stakeholders told us of the devastating flooding Thailand experienced in 2011, amounting in the loss of about 46 billion USD.
Since early 2015, Thailand has been experiencing quite the opposite; a prolonged drought that is likely to stretch into 2016 and continue to compromise the country’s water resources undermining the ecosystem and country’s social and economic development.
The FDMT project could not have come at a better time for Thailand. Certainly Thailand has vast knowledge and experience with flood management and planning; institutions such as the Royal Irrigation Department (RID), Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute (HAII), National Disaster Warning Center (NDWC), Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA), Provincial Waterworks Authority (PWA), etc., have experience in flood forecasting and planning.
However, knowledge around drought management and planning is less available. It does however provide the project with a good entry point to give institutions dealing with the drought situation the tools needed to ensure better resilience for future droughts.
The training helped participants understand the planning process can be supported through the DSS.
Through clear and comprehensive step-by-step guidelines, users will be able to access satellite and remote sensing data via a GIS system (QGIS) which can be brought into the DSS interface, where the information can be analysed and visualised.
For example, QGIS, a free and open source GIS software, has been integrated in the DSS allowing users to visualise information in the form of maps. This is useful for identifying areas that are and will be prone to drought or to map out a water utility’s supply system, etc.
The DSS integrates information from the GIS system as well as observation data and local data that is available.
The workshop was an important step in the development of the DSS as it provided an opportunity for different users from a variety of organization to test the software and provide feedback that will feed into the further development of the tools within the system. This will ensure that the end-product will benefit the users.
Just as important is the buy in at a more senior level. Decision makers need to understand the value of the outputs of the DSS in contributing to informed planning to respond and prepare to flood and droughts. To make this link, a Flood and Drought Symposium with high level representatives from national and international institutions was held in Bangkok, Thailand prior to the workshop. The focus was on the importance of improving flood and drought management and planning and the essential use of data and information for informed decision making.
This event, in parallel with the technical trainings, is essential to the success of the DSS. Although information and communications technologies such as this system help enhancing our ability to minimise risks and mitigate the impacts associated to climate change, mobilising support and building capacity for their effective use is as relevant as the technologies’ potential itself.
The energy and enthusiasm from participants in the training was encouraging and has given a renewed reminder of what the project can bring to organisations willing to improve their planning processes around flood and drought management.
I look forward to the next training in Bangkok and in the other pilot basins (Lake Victoria basin and Volta), and can only hope for a similar reception there.
Don't miss the presentations given at the UN Floods and Droughts Symposium in Thailand and the news story produced by NBT World.