07/15/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/15/2021 03:47
During the last decades, climate change and other pressures have amplified risks and widen the range of detrimental events that cause devastation of human life, property, biodiversity, and cultural heritage worldwide. Eastern Africa is no exception. With high sensitivity and limited adaptive capacity, weather-related and geological hazards have caused massive havoc in the region. For instance, in May 2020, floods were reported in more than three quarters of Kenya's counties (36 out of 47), with landslides reported in the Rift Valley and the central and coastal regions causing deaths and displacement of more than 400,000 people. In Rwanda, the official death toll of landslides, lightning, floods and other events was 254 in 2018, a sharp increase from 82 the previous year. The economic damage was also estimated as 204 billion Rwandan francs ($225 million) with nearly 16,000 homes destroyed.
One way of enhancing the overall awareness and responsiveness is to use artificial intelligence (AI) that would help bridge the distance, in time and space, between citizens and authorities in those crucial first few moments following disasters. While AI solutions have created new opportunities for enhancing disaster resiliency and risk reduction, they are limitedly used in Eastern Africa, hampering efforts for the development and implementation of sustainable disaster risk reduction (DRR) and preventive solutions.
UNESCO in collaboration with Japanese partners (Weathernews Inc. and LINE Cooperation) developed an Al Chabot Smartphone Application for DRR to help citizens interact with local authorities to better prepare, respond and recover from disasters. The Chatbot enables users to receive early warning on future disasters and allow them to report any damage (with pictures and georeferenced information) when disasters occur. The data is processed by AI to generate a map so that relief agencies and government can utilize it for identifying the most impacted locations that need urgent rescue.
On 30 June 2021, UNESCO organized a training for master trainers from Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda who will facilitate planned in-country trainings in collaboration with UNESCO Offices and National Commissions in the respective countries.
Opening the training, Ms. Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, the Director of UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa thanked the Government of Japan for the financial support and emphasized the timeliness of the intervention. She acknowledged the AI-based chatbot as an important tool that will reinforce already existing approaches to disaster management. Mr. Soichiro Yasukawa, Coordinator for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience at UNESCO, presented UNESCO interventions in DRR and reiterated the organization's readiness to assist Member States in building capacities in disaster management.
Mr. Shoichi Tateno, the representative of Weathernews Inc., acknowledged the partnership and walked participants through the functions and operations of the Chatbot.
At the closing, Mr. Jayakumar Ramasamy, UNESCO Senior Programme Specialist mentioned the master trainers will organize exclusive trainings in their countries for a critical mass of stakeholders to pilot the AI Chatbot.