OpenDRI Partners with JICA on Training for Flood Mapping in Colombia

In Colombia, heavy rains, flash floods, and melting glaciers mean that flood hazard is present throughout the year. In fact, flood hazard accounts for the principal risk of disasters in the country. The most recent major flood event was in 2010–2011, when La Niña phenomena resulted in strong and continuous rains, driving an increase in water-flow in the country’s main watersheds. The flooding affected than 2,350,000 people across 28 of the nation’s 32 departments (regions), impacting 700 municipalities and causing 130 deaths. The iconic image of this event was the broken of an embankment in the “El Dique” channel (an arm of the Magdalena River that communicates with the Caribbean Sea at Cartagena de Indias), which flooded a third of the Atlantico department.


Floods in Atlantico department, El Dique channel brokerage. Source: International Charter

This event gave rise to the OpenData community in Colombia. Since then, the community has been growing, taking action all over the country – for instance, during floods, drought, and famine in La Guajira department – and providing baseline mapping and impact assessment support. The community’s work during the flash floods in Salgar, Antioquia, in 2015, won an honorable mention in the category of “Innovation” during the World Humanitarian Day celebration.

In October 2016, OpenDRI, GFDRR’s open data initiative, hosted a day-long event during JICA’s flood mapping workshop for the National Unit of Disaster Risk Management in Colombia (UNGRD) with support from the World Bank DRM Hub in Tokyo. Technical experts from the Unit, as well as Districts, Departments, and national risk and environmental institutions attended the workshop to learn about how open data and open source tools can be used to generate useful information for decision making during a natural disaster event. The content focused on OpenDRI principles and tools in reference to the OpenData cases in Colombia.


OpenDRI workshop seminar at UNGRD in Colombia. Source: José Marie Sánchez, UNGRD

The tools discussed included the example of several Geonode instances, demonstrating the substantial accomplishments of the OpenDRI principles. For example, the InaSAFE plugin for QGIS enables the creation of disaster scenarios based on several type of hazards, including floods. Radarsat data products created during the 2010–2011 floods in Colombia by International Charter Space was overlaid with InaSAFE and OpenStreetMap data to estimate the potential damage of a similar event in the country.

In the afternoon, a mapathon created new geographic open data about Wininparen, one of the most affected areas in the climate change-related crisis in La Guajira, Colombia, where more than 5,000 children have died.

The participants had the opportunity to learn how create, export, share, and use OpenStreetMap data in the framework of OpenDRI, using the iD webmap editor, the HOTOSM export tool, the HDX data sharing platformm and QGIS. Throughout the activities, they offered ideas or questions about OpenData and Free Software in the context of an emergency or disaster. Some of these ideas concerned:

OpenData from the government. National geographic authority can publish a link to OpenData repositories as an alternative to official data.

Imagery sources. With public and private satellite organizations, private sector institutions with aerial resources, SMB and citizens with drones, there is a wide array of sources through which government institutions can access aerial imagery during disasters.

Free software and open data. The participants were shown free software and open data quality tools to create, publish, work, and analyze. These tools, suitable for use in the context of a disaster, have open licenses that guarantee a more dynamic process for working with information flows.

Opportunities for action. The participants suggested potential opportunities to engage in risk management action in the local context, and to do mapathons to update geographic databases.

The workshop opened new possibilities to adopt these principles and tools for the benefit of resilience and risk management in Colombia.