On Tuesday July 24th, the Rwanda Meteorology Agency (Meteo Rwanda) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) concluded a 5-day Hackathon on the application of IoT for Climate Early Warning. The Hackathon brought together different developers and climate data scientists across the region to test technology and applications to address Disaster Preparedness and Early Warning Systems through ‘real time’ environmental data collection, analysis and dissemination.
Rwanda is a country highly prone to disaster, including landslides, flash floods, droughts, windstorm, lightning and earthquakes. Over 157,000 people vulnerable to drought, 7,431 are vulnerable to landslide, and over 5,000 houses are vulnerable to windstorm in the rural areas. Real-time micro level climate data is critical for disaster risk management, early warning and for rapid response to disaster. However, collection of this data is challenging. A large part of present data collection is done manually, with data being sent monthly by phone and paper forms. This can delay the early warning mechanism and in the face of large scale disaster, be inefficient to provide first-hand scoping information, and moreover lead to loss of data.
In order to pilot new and innovative methods to effectively collect and disseminate micro-climate data that matches the needs of the people, Meteo Rwanda with the support of UNDP and funding from Noreps has been implementing the ‘Internet of Things (IoT) for Climate Early Warning and Humanitarian Recovery in Rwanda’ project. Through multiple workshops and consultations with local stakeholders facilitated by Impact Hub Kigali, the project identified opportunities for technology innovation to support data collection, analysis and dissemination.
Contesting team guided by a meteo staff during the hackthon
The 10 teams, total 34 engineers and climate data scientists set out to prototype solutions to these opportunities during the 5-day Hackathon in Kayonza district. Meteo Rwanda, MIDIMAR, RISA, RAB, RWFA,Tumba College of Technology (TCT), District & Sector officials together with representative farmers and other stakeholders from the relevant government institutions and non-governmental organisations were present for the the first half of the Hackathon to talk with the developers to better clarify the pain points and challenges that the organisations face with disaster preparedness and early warning systems.
In addition, Meteo Rwanda staff and students from Tumba College of Technology were given training sessions on IoT devices including communications, calibration and data analysis, durability and security, and their maintenance. Education and knowledge transfer was present throughout the entire hackathon as the students, staff and hackathon participants benefited from the expertise and the presence of mentors from the Rwanda private sector, Ghana and Kenya, University of Tokyo professors, and the Impact Hub Kigali technical team.
Serge Senyana, Meteorological Applications Officer at Meteo Rwanda noted “ when the weather patterns become disastrous, you smarter to reduce vulnerability; so, you need design thinking and hacking capabilities to provide good solutions.”
A partnership workshop for the main stakeholders was held on Tuesday morning to work on ideas for scale up of the IoT project after this phase, validate the applications/solutions that were developed from the first phase of the IoT project which was concluded in February, and as well as present awards to the teams that participated in the Hackathon.
René Kabalisa, Principal Research and Development at RISA enthusiastically noted “ Wonderful to find more than 40 young innovators with an eagerness to come up with ideas to solve issues in our society utilising ICT and taking leadership in implementing these solutions for our community and the country as a whole”.
Elisabeth Yambabariye, Flood Risk Management Engineer at MIDIMAR echoed this sentiment about the hackathon: “The Hackathon was really amazing and Rwanda is lucky to have young engineers like these young people! The future free of vulnerable people to disasters is secured.”
Gaspard Twagirayezu, Science and Technology Policy Analyst at the National Council for Science and Technology, who was present at the Hackathon as one of the mentors for the teams said “The hackathon is proof that we have young people who are able to create solutions to our challenges using technology. Participants demonstrated a good understanding of challenges in disaster management and worked hard to come up with solutions that have potential to transform the sector. The participants need to be encouraged and supported to ensure their solutions are successfully deployed. “
Indeed, the participants are going to be supported to implement their solutions. Meteo Rwanda and MIDIMAR will be implementing some of the solutions and RISA has expressed interest to fund implementation and scaling of some of the solutions.
Final prototypes awarded included the below three Grand Prizes. Four teams were awarded Silver Prizes and 3 teams awarded Inspirational Prizes.
Team Ecodev - Applied machine learning to disaster risk assessment and prototyped an initial model which can be ‘trained’ by adding historical weather and disaster information.
Team Binary Earth - A coordination platform between Meteo Rwanda, MIDIMAR and other institutions using a dynamic Geographic Information System (GIS) to pass on weather hazard information and disaster risk assessments in a timely and effective manner.
Team STES- Prototyped a solar powered WMO standard compliant soil moisture sensor mesh network system using radio transmission so that can be set up in remote areas. Soil moisture data is critical for flood and drought disaster prediction.
Meteo Rwanda: Rwanda Meteorology Agency was present to ensure that the technologies and applications being developed are relevant and meet the needs of the users. Meteo provided further clarification of existing systems and the current gaps/challenges.
RISA: Rwanda Information Society Authority in charge of implementing the national Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) policies and programs to fast-track socio-economic growth. RISA will be supporting some of the solutions to be scaled up and will play a big role in the next phase of the IoT project.
UNDP: The United Nations Development Programme was the lead agency implementing the whole project based on partnership with Meteo Rwanda.
NOREPS: Network of humanitarian organisations and private companies facilitated by innovation Norway. They were the overall funder of the project.
MIDIMAR: Rwanda’s Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs. MIDIMAR was present to provide meaningful insights on disaster related issues and what specific challenges they face in regards to early warning systems.
RAB: The Rwanda Agricultural Board was present to share the specific challenges from the Agriculture point of view, and to ensure the needs of the agronomists and farmers will be considered as solutions are developed.
RWFA: Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority. RWFA provided insights on issues related to deforestation and landslides and opportunities available in regards to early warning systems.
University of Tokyo: The University of Tokyo helped in capacity building by training students on setting up and use of IoT sensors.
Impact Hub Kigali: part-innovation lab, part-incubation center offers a unique ecosystem of resources to grow positive impact. IHK was the overall facilitator of the project, provided technical mentorship to the teams, and held training sessions on IoT.