In 2015, communities in Ghana’s capital Accra fell victim to devastating floods and fire which swept through the city. Over 150 people lost their lives during the floods and fire caused by lightning at a petrol station in the Adabraka suburb.

The city is no stranger to flash floods. Increased urbanisation over the last decade has led to more frequent flash floods and when I visited the city after the devastating floods of June 2015, I was stunned to discover the inadequacy of current prevention strategies.

Warnings broadcast by radio to residents are often too late and inaccurate. This reactive approach is not only due to incorrect rainfall estimates and predictions but also to the absence of a hydrological model to predict floods.

Personal early warning app

What if we could give Ghanaians more control over their own safety? What if each citizen had access to their own early flood warning on their person hours earlier and with 50% more accuracy?

We are developing a ‘Flash Flood Forecasting’ app which does just that. Almost every Ghanaian has access to a cell phone, so an app is the most accessible early warning device allowing for a proactive response. The app draws from modern satellite data and a new generation of flood modelling. It allows for more time than other early warning systems in that it is built for a small, specific area, so a smaller amount of data is required.

Ready to pilot
The good news is that the first blueprint of the app is ready and we hope to begin the one year pilot phase in Accra in September 2016. The biggest challenge we now face is to ensure the app is accessible to the poorest and most vulnerable members of society and so remains free of charge. As such, we need to find more investors to help support our work in this essential area. 

The app is part of a project funded by the Dutch VIA Water foundation and reuses data gained during a UNDP project to map the flood and drought risks across Ghana. NADMO, the disaster organisation in Ghana, helps to support this system and seek funding from the private sector. Working with 3Di and Infoplaza, the Royal HaskoningDHV team is responsible for overall project management given our experience in Accra and our local presence means that we know the key stakeholders in the city very well.

The External Advisory Board of our project consists of:
- Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands
- Lennart Silvis, Chief Enabling Officer at the Netherland Water Partnership
- Arnoud Molenaar, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Rotterdam 
- Nick van de Giesen, Professor at Delft University of Technology 

App showcasing at Adaptation Futures 2016
A city using similar forecasting tools to those being used in Accra is Rotterdam. Both cities are Rockefeller Foundation Resilient Cities, and the fact that this innovation is mirrored across both sides of the world is noteworthy.

Incidentally, we will be showcasing the app in Rotterdam from May 10-13 at the Adaptation Futures 2016 event. As a sponsor of the event, Royal HaskoningDHV is hosting a session on Climate Change as an Innovation Driver, together with James Dalton of IUCN and Anthony Hurford of the University of Manchester on Wednesday 11 May, from 1.30-3.15pm in the Goudriaan Room II. You can come and find us anytime throughout the conference at our stand. 

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