A fishing boat sails along the Mekong River at sunrise in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Aug. 26. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)
Facebook and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) have launched a collaborative initiative to provide early flood alerts and drought monitoring information to communities and governments in the Lower Mekong region.
The first of its kind, the collaboration aims to raise awareness among the public in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam about the MRC’s flood and drought information systems and to build capacity for officials on the use of online digital systems.
“At Facebook, we always look for new ways to support development efforts in this region,” said Shanti Alexander, Asia-Pacific community affairs manager at Facebook, after the Aug. 31 launch.
“With a suite of tools that supports communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters and build resilience, we are pleased to partner with the MRC to keep millions of people in this region informed on possible floods and drought so that they are better prepared for a crisis.”
According to a United Nations report, the last two decades have seen direct economic losses from climate-related disasters increase by up to 250 percent.
In the Mekong region between 1998 and 2017, Thailand was worst hit, suffering losses estimated at US$52.4 billion.
The MRC estimates that while seasonal flooding brings diverse benefits to the region, the average annual cost of floods in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) is $60-70 million. Cambodia and Vietnam alone account for about two-thirds of the Mekong region’s total annual flood damage.
Recent MRC studies also show that drought events in the LMB have increased in frequency and severity in recent decades and this trend is set to continue.
The basin is also vulnerable to additional climate change impacts that include a predicted mean temperature rise of about 0.8 degrees Celsius by 2030.
“We see the utmost importance of providing timely and reliable information on water levels to Mekong countries and communities exposed to flood and drought and an ever-changing climate so that they can take action in time to avoid or reduce their risk and prepare an effective response,” said Anoulak Kittikhoun, the MRC’s chief strategy and partnership officer.
The MRC has installed 22 hydrological stations along the main channel of the Mekong River in the LMB to monitor and collect river water level and rainfall data, which feeds into its Mekong Flood and Drought Forecasting System.
The system provides the public and governments with data on daily river water levels, including flood alerts and drought forecasting, throughout the year.
The system will be explained through a 3D animated video, which will be shared on Facebook’s platform to reach communities across the region.
Facebook will also train officials from the four MRC member countries on how to use digital tools to communicate effectively and quickly during and after a disaster.
This will include training on Facebook’s Population Density Maps, an application that uses state-of-the-art computer visual techniques to combine publicly and commercially available datasets with Facebook’s artificial intelligence capabilities. The maps are three times more detailed than available sources.