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Togo: Early-warning system for climatic disasters

The West African country Togo has increasingly been affected by extreme weather conditions that now became unpredictable. The GRC is cooperating with the Togolese Red Cross (CRT) and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC) in The Hague to adopt early warning measures which are supposed to help in dealing with climate change.

On the one hand droughts, on the other hand floods: meanwhile it is getting more difficult to react adequately to the change of periods of drought and wet seasons. The GRC is hence supporting communities in Togo to prepare for disasters in order for them to be able to better manage the consequences of climate change.

Since the beginning of the implementation of the early-warning system in 2009, tricoloured water gauges have been installed along all flood-prone rivers in Togo. In the case of elevated water levels, volunteers alarm immediately their own and neighbouring communities with megaphones or emergency mobile phones. Currently, already 112 communities with about 100.000 inhabitants are participating in this nationwide Red Cross project. With this initiative, the CRT supports the Togolese Government in its efforts to prepare local communities for floods which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. By now, the CRT’s simple but effective flood early warning system has already gained wider recognition outside of Togo.

Scientific support

Currently, the long-time cooperation between the Togolese Red Cross and the GRC focuses on the optimization of the commonly developed early-warning system in order to generate more reliable predictions and an extended advance warning time. It shall be implemented via a hydrological calculation model, which at present is being developed in cooperation with the RCCC in The Hague. In order for the model to generate flood predictions, data need to be collected and processed. At the moment, this data is gathered by CRT volunteers by use of already installed and calibrated water gauges and pluviometers and sent to a server via text messages. In addition, a regional dam operator enters supplementary data regarding the filling level of the dam as well as the planned operating hours of its floodgate into the system. The RCCC supports the GRC/CRT in the development of this system.

As soon as the dam operator informs the CRT about a planned opening of the floodgates, the hydrological calculation model, employing a promising, self-learning algorithm, is able to give relatively precise predictions about flooded areas downstream of the dam. In case the model predicts a heightened flood risk for certain villages, the CRT implements standardised operating procedures (SOPs) in the respective villages. Those SOPs include for example the distribution of cholera tablets for the treatment of drinking water, broadcasting of radio programmes for recommended disaster preparedness measures like the fortification of houses and evacuation routes, the secure storage of valuables – and if needed instructions for a coordinated evacuation.

In order to act ahead of a possible flood disaster, funds are already being disbursed and measures are being implemented as soon as a heightened risk of flooding is predicted by the hydrological model. This so-called Forecast Based Financing (FbF) mechanism helps to reduce risks and losses for the affected population, thereby also lowering costs for external humanitarian assistance.

The German Red Cross supports the establishment of disaster management teams, the volunteer members of which are recruited from at-risk communities along rivers. These and other volunteers are being trained; during regular simulations they practice the tasks and procedures they have laid down together with their communities in community emergency plans. Volunteers are provided with skills in first-aid and with disaster kits for their service.

Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation

Procedures within the communities: The GRC starts with the analysis of existing risks in the respective communities. During the risk analysis, the local population identifies natural hazards and disaster risks, but also local capacities of self-help that are already in place. Local knowledge and already established structures like evacuation routes, evacuation sites or efficient community committees are considered and integrated. Based on risk maps, safe areas as well as at-risk areas in the vicinity of communities are designated. This analysis forms the starting point of disaster preparedness as community members thereupon agree on an action plan for risk reduction in their communities which can be implemented partly by the community itself, and partly with the support of the CRT.

Red Cross voluteers are not only organized in disaster management teams but also in mother clubs, hygiene committees and other local structures. They use methods such as theatre plays, sketches and movies to inform community members about heightened health risks at times of disasters and avoidance strategies as well as about the advantages of disaster preparedness measures such as flood-resistant construction and reforestation to reinforce riverbanks as a natural protection against floods.

Teachers are also taking part in these events. In addition, they perform rainfall measurements together with their pupils which are likewise entered into the above-mentioned hydrological calculation model. In this manner, the project shapes the consciousness for the consequences of climate change and links the scientific level with the reality of life in the communities.

The project

Region: All 5 regions in Togo (Maritime, Plateaux, Central, Kara, Savannes)
Project volume: 1.8 million Euro
Financing: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and donations
Partner: Togolese Red Cross, Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC)

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