Perennial flooding isn’t something new in the city of Dar es Salaam which has a population of almost five million. However last October witnessed flooding like never before. Locals who lived along a river bank of the busy city lost everything when heavy rains caused it to burst its bank in October last year. Residences which until then seemed ideal due to affordability and location became inundated. With the heaviest recorded rainfall since 1918, these floods left locals with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
The regional authorities decided to work out a solution. Last month, Tanzania Flying Labs was requested by the Dar es Salaam Multi-Agency Emergency Response Team (DarMAERT) to conduct post-flood assessments in key areas of the city to determine the extent, impact and cause of flooding. In some areas we were asked to identify features preventing drainage of floodwaters.
Further research revealed that the coordination of drones for disaster response is absolutely vital. So UNICEF joined hands with Tanzania Flying Labs, WeRobotics and other disaster responders in Malawi to provide training on drone coordination. Each of the Tanzania Flying Labs around the world has developed important connections with national civil aviation authorities. These relationships become vital when drones need to be deployed in disaster management.
This joint project was given the Swahili moniker DUMA which translates to “Data for flood control”. Data collection, processing and analysis form the core of all activities. It was found that aerial imagery was an under-utilized yet valuable source of data crucial to policy making at both the local and national level. Aerial imagery offers an important perspective. WeRobotics is focused on growing its global network of Flying Labs is to ensure that this new perspective can be quickly captured at high spatial resolutions and analyzed in-country. Such timely and accurate imagery is needed to help identify what prevents draining of water properly from the flooded areas in Dar, for example.
Aerial data acquisition from three areas of interest was concluded and each site had its own rewards and challenges when it came to flying the trusty mapping drones. Taking-off and landing in a busy urban environment requires superior piloting skills due to obstacles and changing winds. The first phase of DUMA mapped an area called Boko located in Northern Dar es Salaam. The community there has been suffering from flooding for many years and even though monsoon had not set in the extent of the flooding in certain areas and households was extensive.
Floods cause misery and poor quality of life in terms of economic losses and health risks. The combined efforts with DarMAERT in Tanzania will hopefully scale-up to include other at-risk areas around the city. This will provide a valuable knowledge base for tackling such problems in other Tanzanian cities and beyond. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #11 calls for better urban planning and management to make the world’s urban spaces more inclusive, safe and resilient.