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Disaster Relief Data Technology Helps Progress in Malawi

Progress In Malawi
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) created a digital risk management information system (DRMIS). Currently headquartered in four districts (Balaka, Chikwawa, Mangochi and Phalombe), this initiative collects key data from various sectors to aid communities that natural disasters affected through the delivery of essential services. This advancement in technology has created immense progress in Malawi, a nation that suffers frequently from floods.

Impact of Natural Disasters

Furthermore, studies have shown that floods may lead to an average GDP loss of 1% each year. Floods in Southern Malawi have also caused annual losses of 12% in maize crops. This can seriously stint progress in Malawi as maize is the nation’s staple food crop and accounts for 25% of total agricultural employment.

However, the system that UNDP and DoDMA created aims to digitally record disaster-related information, make better sense of the data available and provide more accurate data-informed insights on what action to take. This will help tackle issues that have risen in the past such as the lack of cohesion and coordination between various disaster relief units in Malawi. Data can help disaster relief units become more organized and effective in their response to crises like floods, cyclones, droughts and hailstorms.

Features and Functions

The system is user-friendly and incorporates several digital design principles using open-source technology. In addition, the system can function in offline mode as well which ensures that users can input data during power outages that may follow a natural disaster. Once the connection undergoes restoration, the data automatically uploads into the system and feeds into a set of real-time data visualizations that users then engage with.

The system also relies on a cluster approach to help coordinate humanitarian assistance in times of emergency. Data pipelines are in place for key reporting units and can help generate key insights on clusters such as shelter and sanitation. Although the initiative is only championed in four key regions, there are plans underway to expand the system to another five regions and then nationwide. The UNDP is exploring methods to improve the system even further, possibly to include features informing users on resource allocation, availability of supply of goods and estimated time for supply deliveries.

Progress in Malawi

This new technology will save countless lives, and lessen the negative impact of natural disasters on the economy. Furthermore, since Malawi relies heavily on rainfed agriculture, it is extremely vulnerable to non-compliant weather conditions and natural disasters. The nation has also faced further difficulties in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the effects of the fourth and most recent wave of the pandemic in 2021 have created far less economic damage than in previous years. Favorable weather and agricultural input subsidies have created a boost in maize and tobacco production which has in turn helped to boost the local economy. With the support of the data system introduced by the UNDP and DoDMA, one can expect a positive trajectory for the economy and progress in Malawi.

– Samyudha Rajesh
Photo: Flickr