Tanzania slum uses drones to map out flood risk

Men push a stranded motorist out of a flooded street in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Nov 23, 2016.
Men push a stranded motorist out of a flooded street in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Nov 23, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TANDALE (Tanzania) • The sight of a drone hovering above the streets of Tandale to map the crowded flood-prone neighbourhood in the north of Dar es Salaam spread excitement among inhabitants tired of dealing with regular inundations.

"I am happy to see something is being done to prevent flooding," said 35-year-old resident Happy Malimbo.

With the help of drones, city authorities are drawing up plans to protect and assist suburbs at risk of flooding like Tandale, offering a glimmer of hope to those who live there.

Since 2013, Dar es Salaam City Council has worked with the World Bank and other partners, including the Red Cross and the Open Geospatial Consortium, to plot roads, streams and floodplains using drones.

Dubbed Ramani Huria, which is Swahili for "Open Mapping", the project aims to help communities in slums create accurate maps of their localities.

Floods come every year to Tandale, one of Dar es Salaam's largest slums, but inadequate planning means the naturally occurring hazard often turns into a man-made disaster.

These maps can be used to reduce flood risks and improve response to disasters, officials said.

Floods come every year to Tandale, one of Dar es Salaam's largest slums, but inadequate planning means the naturally occurring hazard often turns into a man-made disaster.

Local people said they have repeatedly suffered losses due to flooding, which has also left hundreds without shelter.

"I lost most of my belongings as the flood waters stormed into the house in April," said Ms Malimbo, who has three children.

With almost 70 per cent of inhabitants living in informal settlements, Dar es Salaam is highly vulnerable to flooding, especially in densely populated slum areas like Tandale.

Heavy rains fall twice a year, often resulting in severe floods that force thousands of people to flee from their homes and cause millions of dollars' worth of damage.

Ms Juliana Letara, head of urban planning at Kinondoni Municipal Council, said the Ramani Huria initiative had trained university students and community members to identify and map areas mostly likely to be hit by floods, enabling the local authorities to take action in real time.

Several wards in Tandale have been mapped to create flood risk models and a community resilience plan has established evacuation routes.

"If you can trace where it floods, you can either install or upgrade infrastructure to improve the situation for the people," Ms Letara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The production of detailed datasets and a collaboration with a separate Red Cross project to tackle flooding have led to the creation of local teams and plans for disaster preparedness and response in 10 of Dar es Salaam's most flood-prone communities.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Tanzania slum uses drones to map out flood risk'. Print Edition | Subscribe