Seaweed farms just off of Lembongan Island. Photo © Kevin Arnold

A Symbiotic Relationship of Community Resiliency: Red Cross and TNC

Indonesia represents one of the most disaster-prone countries, with the second fastest growing population of any other nation. With this incredible growth brings great potential for technological innovation. In the coastal city of Semarang, Indonesia, we’re harvesting Twitter data to better inform local disaster managers of where floods are happening and how to use nature to minimize damages. To do this, we’re working with the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and contributing to a larger project that is building community resilience to floods and storms at the city level. We kicked off this work by taking a trip to the bustling coastal city of Semarang to host a workshop with the city coalition.

Amidst the bustling streets of motorcycles, small SUVs, commuter vans, and trucks full of livestock for the upcoming holiday, workshop participants greeted old friends within the red and white walls of the Indonesian Red Cross (locally known as Palang Merah Indonesia). The workshop that was about to commence represented the first time that The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC) would co-lead a training since the establishment of their formal partnership, combining the Conservancy’s expertise in conservation with the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s specialization in community mobilization.

While integrating disaster management and environmental work is not a new concept, this project – Resilient Coastal Cities – maps unchartered territory for TNC: integrating Red Cross’s community engagement processes with TNC’s Coastal Resilience tool to identify how and where nature can minimize risk from floods and storms. The workshop brought together a coalition of government bodies, academia, and the Indonesian Red Cross to address increasing concerns around floods and storms in Semarang. As a social scientist that has worked at the intersection of conservation, disaster management, and international development over the last eight years, I was eager to participate in a workshop that brought together many pieces of my passion.

Indonesians are the third most active Twitter users after the U.S. and India. Social media has introduced a completely new form of communication and now serves as a major source of communication and increasingly reliable source for disaster information. As a result, humanitarian organizations and technology companies are working together to find new ways to harness social data to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. Having personally experienced several typhoons in Southeast Asia while working as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, and knowing many people whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed, I can personally attest to the need for innovative thinking around disaster planning, response and recovery, particularly in vulnerable coastal areas.

Through this Resilient Coastal Cities project, we’re utilizing Twitter data to populate flood event information in real-time with our partners at FloodTags. This information is rapidly produced through artificial intelligence (AI) to gather and map flood-related tweets and verify them alongside other data sources, including rainfall gauge levels for the surrounding region.

It was exciting to see this technology presented alongside similar platforms that work to close the communication gap between communities and disaster management entities. The coalition, lively with ideas, expressed interest in utilizing technology to best fit their disaster management and community resilience needs.

We’re also working with partners at Esri, Microsoft, Wetlands International, and Deltares, to identify ways to adapt to the destructive impacts of storms and floods. With the help of coastal engineering principles from Deltares, we are able to demonstrate the process of capturing sediment from outflowing coastal rivers using permeable barriers and bring back mangroves. Through these tools, we can help to alter the future of a city with an eroding coastline by recruiting and reforesting mangroves that will secure the sediment, reduce wave power, and therefore lower the risk of inland floods and coastal erosion.

This visualization of sediment capture and mangrove restoration will be coupled with the real-time flood events and Semarang socioeconomic data on our Coastal Resilience platform to track risks, vulnerabilities, and restoration solutions. The tool will be tested by the city coalition and the Indonesian Red Cross for disaster planning, and will be part of a larger campaign to raise awareness around climate change impacts and adaptation options for Semarang.

The work is particularly timely as Arifin Muh Hadi, the head of Disaster Management for the Indonesian Red Cross and the facilitator of the Semarang City Coalition, shared that the environment is increasingly becoming a priority for the Red Cross, not only in response, but for recovery planning as well.

The methodology and technology applications we’re developing in Semarang fit into our Climate Risk and Resilience strategy which is increasingly working to better integrate the environment within humanitarian programs. Through partnership, research, advocacy and investment, our approach focuses on low-cost, replicable ways to project vital ecosystems and disaster-prone communities.

In route to visit mangroves on Lembongan Island. Approximately 30 miles from Bali. Mangrove forests are “fish factories” that support fishing jobs and food security. The Conservancy is ramping up their efforts to strengthen the resilience of coastal
communities as storms increase and sea levels rise. Photo © Kevin Arnold

My passion for working in conservation for the benefit of nature and people is realized in our Semarang project.  It is the Coastal Resilience approach for community resilience that brought me back to the Conservancy after working in fisheries and coastal management, beginning my career with the Conservancy’s Global Freshwater Team. As a social scientist passionate about exploring innovative solutions to benefit both people and nature, it’s been an exciting journey to be part of something that has never been done before. Stay tuned for updates on our Resilient Coastal Cities project in Semarang, and how we’ll apply this methodology to other projects across the globe.

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.

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