Project launch: “Strengthening Disaster Prevention Approaches in Eastern Africa”.

On Friday 16 October 2020, UNESCO organized an information meeting in collaboration with the Government of Japan and other partners to officially launch the Japanese funded project, “Strengthening Disaster Prevention Approaches in Eastern Africa” which was officially signed at the Embassy of Japan in Nairobi, Kenya on Tuesday 2nd March 2020. At the launch were Ms. Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant Director-General (ADG) for the Natural Sciences Sector of UNESCO, His excellency Mr. Kitagawa Yasuhisa, Deputy Ambassador, Embassy of Japan, Nairobi, Ms. Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, Director and Representative of UNESCO Eastern Africa and representatives of partner institutions. The project launch was also in commemoration of the celebration of the International Day for Disaster Reduction.

© UNESCO

In her opening remarks, Ms. Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, Director and Representative of UNESCO Eastern Africa, expressed the appreciation of UNESCO to the Government of Japan for their continued support and commitment to the Sustainable Development of Africa. She reiterated the timeliness of the project and emphasized its consonance with UNESCO’s “conceptual shift in thinking away from post-disaster reaction towards pre-disaster action”. Representing the Government of Japan, Mr. Kitagawa Yasuhisa, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Japan in Kenya also reiterated the Government of Japan’s committed to supporting the humanitarian and development needs of Africa. He expressed his government’s interest in the project and wished the team success in the implementation to deliver the expected outcomes. The ADG of Natural Sciences, Ms. Shamila Nair-Bedouelle was grateful to the Government of Japan for the support and congratulated the team that design the project. In her remarks, she mentioned that UNESCO has been a catalyst for international, inter-disciplinary cooperation in many aspects of disaster risk reduction and mitigation. She was hopeful that the project outcomes will strengthen the capacity of the beneficiary countries to respond timely and effectively to disasters.

Presenting the project objectives on behalf of UNESCO, Mr. Samuel Partey, Programme Specialist with the Natural Sciences at the UNESCO office in Nairobi mentioned that the project is implemented in response to Eastern Africa’s vulnerability to disasters. Research indicates that with high sensitivity and limited adaptive capacity, weather-related and geological hazards have caused massive havoc in the region. The high frequency of calamitous events and the often poor and slow response seems to have created a deficit of trust between citizens and national authorities. One way of enhancing the overall awareness and responsiveness is to combine citizen science and modern technologies, that would help bridge the distance, in time and space, between citizens and authorities in those crucial first few moments following the disasters. Mr Daisuke Abe, executive officer at Weathernews Inc., a weather service company based in Japan, shared information about the AI Chatbot, which aims to resolve issues related to disaster prevention and mitigation by utilizing AI technology. This project will attempt to contribute to disaster prevention in East Africa by collecting and providing information related to disasters through mutual communication with users by utilizing the LINE messaging app platform, which is most used in Japan as well as other countries. Dr. Nicodemus Nyandiko presented interim report on the Implementation of Enabling Policies and Institutions for Artificial Intelligence and Citizen Science Applications in Disaster Risk Reduction in Eastern Africa. Finally, Ms Sandra Delali Kemeh explained the process on development of smartphone application KNOW-DRR.

The project therefore expects to deliver three outcomes:

  • Science-evidenced AI and citizen science approaches adopted for DRR;
  • Policy decisions on AI, modern technologies and citizen science for DRR taken by countries based on UNESCO engagement and information dissemination;
  • Institutions and community groups trained and able to apply science-evidenced AI and citizen science best practices in DRR

At the closing, Mr. Jayakumar Ramasamy, UNESCO Senior Programme Specialist thanked all participants and informed them of future information meetings to present the progress of the project.

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