Vulnerable communities around the world could soon use a smartphone app to help mitigate the impact of flooding thanks to a South American ‘citizen science’ pilot.
Created in partnership with researchers at the University of Glasgow and the University of Warwick in the UK, Heidelberg University in Germany, and the National Center for Monitoring Natural Disasters Alerts (Cemaden) and the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Brazil, the new app is a key development of the Waterproofing Data Project (WDP), which explores how to build resilience by encouraging communities to generate the data used to predict when floods will occur.
The Waterproofing Data app – Dados à Prova D’Água – has been tested by teachers, students, civil defense agents and residents in more than 20 municipalities in Brazil.
Although the app was developed in Brazil, the research team hopes to roll out this model globally to engage citizens around the world to generate flooding and rainfall data in their own countries that can be used to tackle the global climate crisis.
The app came out of a collaborative design process in which community members actively shaped how the app works. It creates a ‘citizen scientist’ monitoring network by enabling members to generate data about rainfall and local flood impacts while showing them a visualization of all the data, including those from official sources.
Professor João Porto de Albuquerque, deputy director of the Urban Big Data Centre at the University of Glasgow, and project lead, said, “The Waterproofing Data project reached a milestone today with the release of a mobile application and school model curriculum, after successfully testing them with more than 300 school students and professionals working in civil protection in nine cities in Brazil.
“The mobile app draws on research results obtained by a transdisciplinary international research team in Brazil, Germany and the UK in co-production with flood-prone communities and institutional stakeholders in Brazil. It will enable schools and communities throughout Brazil to work with our partners at Cemaden to combine citizen science and urban analytics to adapt to climate extreme events and prevent the devastating impacts of flooding that have happened year after year in Brazil.”
The research also discovered clear educational benefits to young people in at-risk communities. Students learned how to make rainfall gauges with plastic bottles and to use the Waterproofing Data mobile app to record their rainfall measurements and the impacts on their neighborhoods. They also learned to use digital mapping tools such as OpenStreetMap. Empowering them to become citizen scientists helped them understand flooding risks and the effect of climate change on their neighborhoods while also generating valuable data for flood management agencies.
The app and curriculum make flood data accessible, raise awareness of flood risks and encourage participation in the design of new initiatives to reduce disaster risks.