According to a data dive by the ONE Campaign, a large percentage of Africa’s population of 1.5 billion are vulnerable to floods. In 2022, 26 African countries were affected by the devastating impact of flooding, resulting in the loss of 2,100 lives and displacing 3.4m people across the continent.
According to the 2022 Ecological threat report published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, out of 41 countries facing extreme flooding, two-thirds of the 27 hotspot countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2050, the projected total number of internal climate migrants in sub-Saharan Africa could be as high as 86 million. Meanwhile, the estimated annual cost of Africa’s climate adaptation by 2050 is $50 billion.
According to a brief published by Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri), the world’s largest geospatial software company, mapping and geographic information systems (GIS) are fast becoming the primary response tools by policymakers and planners to reduce the severity of flooding around the world. For example, during the 2018 Kerala Floods in India, the government actively deployed geospatial technology in rescue and relief operations.
Yet, African countries’ environmental authorities have not deployed enough geospatial data to prevent flooding, making it the region with the least penetration of GIS technology. Taiwo Ogunwumi, a flood risk consultant and geospatial specialist, believes the state of Africa’s adoption of geospatial data is still growing in most African countries. “One of the limitations is the negligence of the governments and institutions to ensure effective data collection of geographic and environmental datasets such as Rainfall, Elevation data, Settlement data, population data, Land use data, River Flow measurement at various institutions within the countries,” he said. “The harmonization and availability of geospatial datasets are essential for predicting or preventing floods. African countries still need to do more to improve the availability of geospatial data to improve its utilization.”
For Emmanuel Jolaiya, founder of Spatialnode and GIS software engineer, there are shining lights for African environmental authorities to start integrating geospatial technology with earth observation data and artificial intelligence for flood mitigation and preparedness. “With time, we will also have more startups that focus on using GIS tech to combat environmental hazards such as flooding,” he said. Emmanuel, however, recommends an end-to-end strategy, as authorities need to put environmental policies and infrastructures like green energy in place to support geospatial technology.
African countries looking to reduce the risks of flooding to the barest minimum must expedite efforts to develop actionable solutions like high-level precision geo-hazard maps with geospatial data. This makes it important for environmental authorities to build an accessible National Geospatial Database and early warning frameworks to monitor exposure and identify locations susceptible to flooding. Also, the rise of geospatial startups on the continent can complement the efforts of disaster management institutions in scaling the use of geospatial technology in aiding decision-making and flood risk management.