Sun or rain? Most of us rely on the daily weather forecast to know what to wear or whether to bring an umbrella. However, for millions of people living in flood prone areas, timely and accurate forecasts, as well as early warning, can impact more than just clothing choices –they can help minimize flooding impacts.
Floods are the most frequent and damaging among natural hazards. Between 1980 and 2016, floods led to economic damages exceeding US$1.6 trillion, and more than 225,000 people losing their lives. Compounded by rapid urbanization and climate change, these losses will likely increase, especially in fast-growing countries.
There is a Chinese saying, ‘a single tree does not make a forest, a single string cannot make music’. By combining water, weather and climate studies, hydromet services help to understand, predict, and warn people of impending hazards. For example, early warnings of floods provide longer lead times for evacuation to safer locations, and protect important assets. Weather information and predictions can also help make better investment decisions; for example, how to use water resources more efficiently to manage implications of wet and dry seasons across different sectors.
This potential for smart technology to minimize risk of flooding was highlighted at the InterMet Asia Conference in Singapore, supported by the Urban Floods Community of Practice. Bringing together the public and private sector, the conference presented participants with an array of state-of-the-art tools, forecasting systems and ‘smart’ solutions to tackle flooding, including the following:
Cloud computing systems, for better weather forecasting at lower costs. Cloud computing can help private or public weather service providers avoid the high costs related to purchasing and maintaining the high-performance computing infrastructure needed to run numerical weather forecast models. Cloud computing services such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud enable forecasting to be performed with multiple models and computers, combining various data sources, which can result in more accurate predictions and better preparation for the next flood.
Internet of Things (IoT), for more accurate flood predictions and planning. New technologies and applications such as low-cost sensors, mobile phones to an IoT network, allow the collection of large amounts of complex and real-time data that can inform the assessment and monitoring of flood risks. Within an IoT network, data can be pooled and mapped in one cloud location, to provide a “big picture” outlook on a given emergency. Moreover, flood sensors, mobile phones, barometric pressure monitors, and dam alert systems, can over time inform better long-term flood preparedness.
Impact-based flood forecasting and early warning. Advising about the scope and likely impact of a given hazard, impact-based forecasting and early warning can help bridge the gap between producers of information and users of information.
Improved data visualization using Virtual Reality (VR) platform. Visualization can help bridge data and human intuition, by allowing for an immersive experience which can help make large amounts of information easily understandable. This can in turn enable better decision-making.
Singapore might offer some valuable insights. The island is a global hydrohub, with an ecosystem of 180 water companies and more than 20 water research centres spanning the entire water value chain. Faced with growing threats of weather and climate extremes induced by climate change, Singapore is investing heavily in national meteorological services and advancing research in the weather and climate of Singapore and Southeast Asia. The recent opening of the WMO Regional Office in Singapore signals the importance of the island nation as a regional hub for Global Weather Enterprise in the region.
The World Bank Group and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) Hydromet Program supported both events. GFDRR, together with the regional teams, is helping to strengthen institutions, observation networks and forecasting, and service delivery. Introducing new technologies and, more importantly, sharing of knowledge is a critical part of this continuous work to improve weather services and enhance disaster resilience of communities.
The Urban Floods Community of Practice (UFCOP) is a global initiative led by the World Bank to share operational and technical experience and solutions for advancing an integrated approach to urban flood risk management. The initiative is jointly led by the World Bank Social, Urban, Rural and Resiliency and Water Global Practices, with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the WB Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) and other development partners.