The number of people exposed to river and coastal flooding is expected to rise by more than 30 percent by 2050 to 1.3 billion, due to population growth and urbanization in hazardous areas. This exposure will lead to escalating climate and disaster risk – in Indonesia, for example, river flood risk alone may increase by 166 percent over the next 30 years alone.

As flooding and other extreme weather events cause more than 75% of all disaster losses, it is essential to reduce these types of risk – especially for the most vulnerable – to help curb quadrupling of disaster losses over the last few decades, and help make development gains sustainable for populations routinely affected by impacts from these events.

Against this gloomy forecast, there was a sign of major progress in the small country Togo in September 2016. On September 18th, 2016, Togo’s Ministry of the Interior authorized the first-ever planned early release of floodwater from the binational Nangbéto hydropower dam on the Mono river. This historic decision marks the first time that the dam is able to not only anticipate flooding but also reduce the impact of flooding in downstream communities, representing an unprecedented level of planning and cooperation among key actors in Togo’s National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

A key component of Togo’s response is forecast based financing (FBF) – a new way to manage growing climate-related risks. The ongoing trial FBF is designed for the Red Cross operations in Togo, where if flood forecast reaches a pre-defined threshold, funding for immediate response is automatically disbursed to Togo Red Cross so that items for preparation such as sand bags, water or food can be purchased. The FBF in Togo consists of three components, an upstream flood forecast model, Dam management component and downstream community alerting system.

team discussing flood alerts

Discussion of the planned release began more than a week before flood levels were reached, enabling the Togo Red Cross to mobilize as soon as the spillways were opened to alert and prepare downstream communities through pre-recorded radio spots, live interviews with Red Cross focal points, delivery of water purification systems, and more.

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), managed by the World Bank, was a key player in integrating the risk-reduction technology that enabled these preparations. GFDRR’s Code for Resilience initiative, aimed at connecting technologists with local disaster risk experts, helped embed an innovative, low cost flood risk forecasting model into the dam’s normal operations, and is also working to help create an automated SMS system that can feed crowd-sourced flood data into a self-learning, algorithmically-based forecast model (FUNES), improving accuracy and response-time.

During the training event in early October, technology transfer took place that will allow the government stakeholders to take on the forecasting model, self-learning algorithm and risk communication tools and customize it to meet their operational needs.

The project was originally initiated by the German Federal Foreign Office, Compagnie Electrique de Benin, the German Red Cross, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, in collaboration with Code for Resilience demonstrating the power of strategic partnerships for disaster risk reduction. This successful rapid-response trial also shows the potential of applied technology in local contexts, and should inspire other governments and communities to make similar investments in resilience.