Written by Nhilce Esquivel, Crystal Conway and Miguel Trejo
From September 3rd to 8th of 2017, many members of the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) community from the Americas region got together to share ideas, make partnerships, strengthen collaboration and overall to learn more about the wider opportunities for Earth Observation Data (EOD) to support the DRR process.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agency from the United States of America, was the entity in charge of organising the event “Strengthening Disaster Risk Reduction across the Americas: A Regional Summit on the Contribution of Earth Observation” to bring together the different actors that are working in the different areas of DRR , in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Three members of the Water Youth Network (WYN) DRR team and the United Nations Major Group of Children and Youth (UN MGCY) assisted and contributed to this event representing the efforts and actions that young professionals in the Water Sector are performing to utilise EOD to support resilient communities and risk mitigation around the world. They presented posters, spoke in panel sessions, organised an interactive session for young professionals and networking activities. Read on to hear more about what we got up to.
The WYN team presented six posters which reflected the diverse activities by young professionals in DRR and EOD all around the world. This proved to be a very successful knowledge sharing activity as many of the event participants approached the authors to ask more about the procedures, software and methodologies used. The titles of the posters presented were:
On Monday 4th, the welcome ceremony took place opened by Dr. David Green, Program Manager for Disaster Applications at NASA and the person who invited youth to be part of this event. During his main speech he encouraged the assistants to get to know each other, share experiences and develop alliances to strengthen the actions towards a stronger and more solid system of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery against any possible risk across the Americas. He also mentioned that the event responded to the efforts of UN in achieving the goals of the 2030 agenda and specifically in successfully applying the goals and targets of the Sendai Framework.
WYN participants were invited as panelists to talk about the actions of the network, but also as young professional experts to share the results of their current work on DRR and earth observation. See their presentation here.
One of the main activities of the WYN in the summit was leading a session called “Youth Engagement, actions and involvement in DRR” to develop strategies for youth involvement at all stages of the DRR cycle. The session was facilitated by the WYN participants and a representative from the Young Hydrologic Society (YHS) based in Argentina.
The session outlined the work of WYN and UN MGCY and how they are working towards achieving the 2030 UN agenda and the Sendai framework for DRR. This was followed by an interactive session where the attendees were organized in 4 teams. Each team represented one of the stages of the DRR management cycle (prevention-preparedness- response- recovery) using different coloured stickers.
To make the activity feel closer to a real situation, a case study from a previous flood in Argentina was used to conduct the activity. Some pictures of the consequences of the flood were shown and the participants were asked about their previous knowledge of that calamity. As many of the attendees were from Argentina, they were quite aware of it and could even explain how the situation started, developed and the duration and severity of its consequences.
Once they had enough information from the case study, they were asked to think about the actions they would implement to mitigate the risks of such an event according to their stage of the DRR cycle. After having agreed on a list of actions, the next step was to come up with strategies to include youth and let them be involved in each of them.
Each group presented their ideas to the rest of the participants, the most relevant actions and associated strategies are outlined below:
Digitise information: Young people can drive changes to systematise some of the processes that make the access to that information slower than it should be.
Ensuring responsible use of social media: Social media needs to be used responsibly at all stages of DRR management to reach more people and build awareness on prevention, preparedness and response. Although social media is a powerful communication tool used by all ages, it can also be a means of miscommunication and wrong information.
Developing mobile application for early warning communication: The development of apps to enhance and strengthen early warning systems and preparedness actions was a strong and very accepted idea. Some of the participants already were using this strategy as part of their DRR actions in their municipalities. They shared how successful and how powerful it has been to develop an app to give instructions and inform people against floods and strong storms. They mentioned that it is a fast way of communication and that the people can get real time information and act immediately.
New innovative technologies for recovery: The usage of drones was discussed as having the potential to speed up the recovery process after a calamity. Poor access to the most vulnerable sites after events causes lots of services and building damage. It was proposed that drones can be of use to fly over the areas, take pictures and videos of the affected zones and give that information to the rescue brigades or civil protection agencies. That information can be processed quickly and even transmitted in real time.
Access to exposure data: ‘Mapathons’ are a great way to map data from satellites in data scarce regions.
Overall, the participants were really satisfied with the presentation and the outcomes of the session. They mentioned that they would propose some of the strategies in their agencies and recognised that young people have lots of potential on the DRR field and that it’s time for some agencies to refresh themselves. Many of them said that the results of the session were really good as they learnt about some strategies that they did not think about before but that are definitely innovative and useful.
Networking: The Water Youth Network was able to take advantage of the opportunity the forum provided to create new connections with other groups and organisations that share similar interests and goals as well as other practitioners in the area of DRR. Some of these are: Group for Earth Observation (GEO); Young Earth Systems Scientists (YESS); NASA Earth Science Disasters Programme; CONICET – National Scientific and Technical Research Council – Argentina; USAID; Red Cross; The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; FEMA and the Global Flood Partnership. WYN looks forward to continuing engagement with these new connections.
Additionally the exposure of WYN and UNMGCY have grown through the engagement of interested individuals who have requested to join the network and new inroads into the Americas have been developed as it pertains to growing our membership in this region.
Capacity building and Professional Development: The opportunity to not only present as young technical professionals on topics directly relating to our work but to interact with some of the subject matter experts in our fields have left us with a new perspective in our work and advocacy interests. Running the interactive session and organising our “on-the-side” networking event(s) also contributed to the professional growth of the participants as they improved their skills in networking, planning and organisation.
Further, the participants were able to enrich their professional networks, gain new partners in data collection/sharing for projects of national interest in their home countries. For instance Nhilce needed data from Belize and through a contact within CIMH (the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology & Hydrology) possibilities for obtaining this data were created. Crystal needed data from Brazil and through a contact at CEMADEM she may be able to source this data for her work as well.
And interestingly enough, through conversation with the participants at this summit, it became clear that the benefits did not flow in one direction either. There were groups who felt that the input of a younger core of technical professionals and youth based focus groups could aid in the development of new technologies. Ideas such as: using high school students to field test apps for emergency management, and mobilising university students to do data collection for government agencies, while e the possibilities of linking to research programmes and degrees and internship opportunities were also mentioned as further fruits of this engagement.
A special thank you to David Green from NASA for giving the chance to WYN and UN MGCY members to be part of this event as well as letting them lead activities and to include them in different sessions. To Victoria Thompson from NASA for facilitating the funding process to WYN and UN MGCY members. Thanks to Peter and Donovan from UNMGCY for helping the participants in the funding process and all their advocacy before the event.