In FYR Macedonia, early warning for disasters only a swipe away

A woman holds a mobile phone in FYR Macedonia
A mobile application helps reduce the risk of suffering and damage during a disaster. Photo: UNDP in FYR Macedonia.

In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a UNDP-supported mobile application helped reduce the risk of suffering and damage during recent flooding.

Highlights

  • The mobile app was tested for the first time in flooding in February 2013 that damaged over 400 homes
  • Programme developed by local university students with US $10,000 in support from UNDP’s Innovation Fund
  • Billions of mobile phones globally increase the potential for applications that can provide vital information and help during disasters

“In February, three days of heavy rain flooded hundreds of homes around here. We were cut off for two days and without drinking water, but at least we were able to keep informed about what was happening through our smart phones and this new app,” says Vase Krstev of the village of Murtino in Strumica municipality.

In early 2013 the village was one of several in the southeast of the country that were hit by floods, with more than 80 percent of the land under water and damage to over 400 homes.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a disaster-prone country that is exposed to various types of natural hazards, and flooding is on the rise in terms of frequency, intensity and losses. With the recently released app, developed by UNDP and supported by the Crisis Management Centre, for the first time emergency services were able to use smart phones and tablets to keep people informed with up-to-date, on-demand and easy to navigate information during a disaster.

Designed to give users updates and provide rapid early warnings when needed, the app can reduce the potential impact of a disaster - especially when information is needed in a hurry. Because the app gives users access to such a large amount of data, information can be customized and specific, giving it an advantage over traditional emergency broadcasting services, such as radio. For example, with the app users can use a map to see where the disaster happened, what the status is and whether their area is likely to flood or remain safe.

“We’re all very thankful it wasn’t much worse,” says Alessandro Fracassetti, Resident Representative a.i. of UNDP in FYR Macedonia in reference to the floods. “The app was very useful in keeping people informed of developments as they happened. Updates and flood warnings were sent out, information was provided on places to avoid, and emergency contact information as well as protection procedures were shared; in the event of a disaster these details can be all the difference in preventing unnecessary loss of life.”

Developed jointly with students and staff at the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering of Skopje University, and drawing on data from the National Crisis Management Centre, the app is designed to be a user-friendly means to quickly and efficiently share disaster awareness, prevention and preparedness information. UNDP helped pay for the development of the app through its regional Innovation Fund and provided support to the app design and release.

“It’s a great app,” says Mr. Ljupco Jankov, Secretary of the Red Cross in Strumica. “During the February floods, with a lot of infrastructure damaged or inaccessible, the app helped updates and alerts to be sent out that kept people out of harm’s way and advised them on how to protect themselves.”

“It’s also really easy to use,” adds Vasko Popovski, UNDP’s Project Manager for Disaster and Climate Risks and designer of the app. “You can find details on any hazardous event in the country, whether it’s landslide, flood, storm or anything else that could be considered dangerous. Before now [people] were mostly getting information about dangers and hazardous events through newspapers and the television, but these aren’t the most relevant and immediate channels anymore.”

Having successfully tested the app during the floods, UNDP, the Crisis Management Center and many of those who faced the rising waters say they are confident in its potential to provide critical information during the country’s next large-scale disaster.

“This marks the critical next step in early warning,” notes Jordan Ryan, Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery in New York. “We are now witnessing constant improvements in the ability to track tsunamis and weather patterns, but getting the word out in a timely manner remains the most difficult challenge of early warning. We need to reach many people across vast territory as quickly as possible. Apps like this make it much easier to get the job done. UNDP is excited to play a part in fostering innovation in the use of mobile technology with results that reduce disaster risk.”

UNDP has been supporting the use of innovative technologies, such as mobile phones and apps, in a number of countries globally to reduce disaster risk. To learn more about the role of mobile technology and early warning in disaster risk reduction, access UNDP’s new report on protecting development from disasters.

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