FPEW Project Coordinator
|Friday, 04 March 2011 05:48|
“Conversations” is a regular column of Nile-Flow, ENTRO’s Newsletter. The Column –written in accessible format - presents a series of interviews with ENTRO staff shedding light on their respective projects and activities.
I am from the Sudan. I am 52 years old. I am married, with five children. I have been with ENTRO for over four years now, since December 2005. Initially, I worked as Environment Specialist for the Power Coordination Unit. This Unit (now folded back after completion of assigned tasks) was then responsible for overseeing studies related to the Ethiopia-Sudan Transmission Interconnection Project and the Eastern Nile Power Trade Study Program. The former, near completion now, connects the power grids of Ethiopia and Sudan; the latter identified the potentials and constraints for Eastern Nile-wide (i.e. including Egypt) Power Trade. Within the Power Coordination Unit I worked as Environment Specialist – essentially focusing on the environmental and social assessment and impacts of power-generation, transmission-and trade related programs and projects.
Tell me more about your professional background.
My background is in the agricultural sciences, soils (B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D.). My Ph.D. work at the University of Arkansas concentrated on the environmental impact of large, industrial-scale poultry farming on soil (solute transport) and eventually ground water pollution.
Your current work [with the Flood Preparedness and Early Warning Project –FPEW] is also related to environment?
Does your project deal with the environmental drivers of flood?
Flood is a cyclical process, consisting of several phases. These are the Preparedness, response and post-flood, recovery phases. Historically, the focus used to be on flood response, which is after the fact, after flood has occurred. It mainly consisted of putting in place physical measures and structures (e.g. sand bags) and organizing, mobilizing communities for evacuations. There used to be little or no long-term preparation to prevent or mitigate the damage floods cause. The problems often emerged after the damage has already been done. More often than not, restoring people’s livelihood used to be and still is a major post-flood rehabilitation work. This project looks at flood differently: we focus on and invest in the preparedness aspect. We are less likely to prevent floods from happening. However, we can reduce flood damages and recovery costs through diligent preparedness work.
Does it mean to enhance preparedness you deal with influencing the relationship of people to the environment, to the way they live and organize their communities?
Yes, we strive to do that. Take, for example, our efforts at flood risk mapping. This means we first identify areas prone to severe flooding. If people know an area is likely to be flooded over and over again, it then will be possible to avoid the location of human settlements in such areas in the first place. Such areas could be better suited for other purposes, for example for recession agriculture or grazing. In general, through flood risk mapping we could make better informed land use decisions and plans. This is the most cost effective way of reducing flood damages. It is prevention par excellence.
The first component of our project is Regional Coordination (RC). It is about establishing the technical and human resources capacities in the three countries required to effectively respond to flood events. Activities consisted of setting up flood forecasting centers in each country, training the staff, buying high-tech equipment, vehicles, and putting in place the required communication systems. Once the centers are established in each country they will have to be enabled to communicate with each other in real time and respond in a concerted fashion regionally. Here one needs to take into account that the three countries, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia start from varying experiences and capabilities to respond to flood. Historically Egypt was strongest in terms of flood protection, particularly after the High Aswan Dam was constructed. Sudan, though more frequently suffering from flood damage, still has to put in place many more systems to effectively protect against floods. Ethiopia barely has had any flood preparedness or protection experience. Ethiopia historically has a more robust preparedness for drought. These initial variations have been taken into account when designing the project. As of recent, flood is becoming increasingly a serious threat in Ethiopia as well, as witnessed during the floods of 2006, for example.
Yes. Ultimately that is our goal. You see, floods follow continuous [for days, for weeks] massive rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands, and to a lesser extent in parts of the Sudan. If downstream countries know ahead of time by how much and how quickly the level of the Nile will rise following the rains, then it will be possible to take appropriate measures as needed such as putting structures or implementing evacuation plans. To do this, we need to be able to generate and relay rainfall data and river flow data in real time i.e. as it happens from the Ethiopian highlands to the centers in Sudan and Egypt. This will give disaster management authorities in Sudan and Egypt adequate lead time to mount effective response. To achieve this we have hired consultants to design the overall system – including data acquisition and communication system, including identifying the required stations to be established and the equipments for real time flood forecasting purposes.
The Centers are linked through the Internet. We have established Shared internet accounts for the three centers in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The meteorological offices/authorities in the three countries are linked with internet 24 hours a day. Telephone link also supplements this.
How long has it taken the Project to put the RCU as functional unit? Is it up and running now?
It has taken us about two years to put the Regional Coordination Unit – RCU here at ENTRO. We are up and running. In fact, we are about done with our mission i.e. we have linked the three countries and it will be up to the three Centers to maintain the linkage, communication and data exchange.
What did you encounter putting three Centers in the three countries and linking them?
For understandable reasons, commitment of the National Coordinators has been hard to come forth.
What are the National Project Coordinators?
These are senior government staff, nominated one from each country to represent the FPEW project. They are representing our project in each country, as additional assignment to their normal duties. Thus they bear heavy workload. This project demands too much of their time, but they are essentially hired to do national not Eastern Nile Regional work. They are remunerated and rewarded for working for the national ministries, not for working for our project.
What have you done to get over this? Is the problem resolved?
We tried to get over this by recruiting consultants to support the national Centers such as by undertaking special studies. But this arrangement is provisional, not a long term solution. The sustainability of the whole system is the question. Who is going to be responsible for and maintain the linkages among the Centers? Unless the National Project Coordinator is full time dedicated to the project, and unless technically supported by specialized staff like modelers, hydrologists, this project will not be sustainable. There needs to be a dedicated person whose success is tied to how well this project delivers.
Yes. We have made this key issue clear in our workshops. Also, we have communicated this to ENSAPT/ENCOM. We will come back to this when we talk about project sustainability.
Tell me about the remaining components of your project?
Community Flood Preparedness and Emergency Response is the second component. Under this component, we have undertaken a number of critical activities. One is the identification and mapping of flood prone and vulnerable areas in Ethiopia and Sudan. This included mapping weak/overflow sections of rivers and preparation of mitigation plans. International consultants have conducted Flood Risk Mapping in Sudan and Ethiopia for pilot areas. Other activities included training communities in flood preparedness, activities to reduce the social and environmental consequences of floods when they happen. Sixteen pilot communities in Ethiopia and Sudan (eight per country) have been selected for which National NGO/Consultants have prepared Community Flood Preparedness Action Plans for the next five years.
Introduce me to the type of trainings you give to the communities?
We train villagers to identify flood prone areas; to develop village level evacuation tracks and plans; to read early warning signals such as water level/mark indicators (color coded poles) immersed in flood plains; training in communicating [when there is high rainfall up-stream] with adjacent communities focal persons through mobile phones to warn each other; flood time sanitation and health preparedness training; managing temporary shelters; storage and evacuation of grains and livestock; knowing to whom/with whom they will need to communicate during flood emergencies [there is system of focal persons from the smallest settlement– the got in Ethiopia up to large units , the kebele, and woreda).
Where do you operate in Ethiopia?
In Ethiopia our pilot communities are all around Lake Tana Flood Plains such as Fogera, Dembya, Libo Kemkem; in Sudan eight communities were selected along the Blue Nile.
Has any of these systems been tried i.e. tested?
Not yet. However, we are ready to do the first test during the 2010 Flood Season.
Do you still have another Project component to introduce us?
The third component is the Flood Forecasting, Communication and Early Warning Component.
What is this component supposed to do?
This component is designed to generate flood warning messages to relevant communities, authorities and countries with sufficient lead time to take appropriate measures.
What does lead time mean?
Lead time refers to the number of days ahead of a flood event i.e. refers to how many days ahead are people warned about and prepared for a flood that will arrive at a particular place. For example, it refers to how many days ahead can we warn people living in Khartoum about an impeding flood, on the basis of rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands.
What have you done here?
We have introduced a new Numerical Weather Prediction Model that can be used by the entire EN region, i.e. by the three countries.
What is this animal Numerical Weather Prediction Model? What does it do?
This model can, for example, make short term rainfall forecasting, for 72 hours or three days in advance, which is reasonable. The model can do more, if needed, including predictions for: temperature, humidity, wind velocity, which could also be helpful for aviation. We have used Egyptian experience and adapted it to Ethiopian and Sudanese conditions.
Yes, they have been using this model for the last 20 years.
Is this a computer model or what?
Yes, you need a high speed computer to run this model, and we have bought this high technology for each of the three countries. All in all this system is in place and working in the three countries, in the there centers, linked to each other; verification and testing is still ongoing; we have confidence in the reliability of the output and the training level of the staff.
Do you have other models also?
Yes, we have developed Flood Forecasting Models for Ethiopia and Sudan. Actually, we subcontracted Sudanese and Ethiopian Universities to carryout this task.
What does this model do?
Perhaps I need to, by way of introduction, briefly explain how flood happens. First, heavy rainfall takes place. This generates run-off, i.e. water flow into small tributaries eventually creating several confluences which flow into the major rivers. When the rain continues falling, the water level in the rivers rises and if the rain still continues it eventually overflows the banks, spilling onto the flood plains. The flood forecasting model hence (a) predicts the peak discharges i.e. at a particular place/location it tells you how much water per unit of time (say in a day or hour) is arriving at that location; (b) predicts the distribution of flood water along the river course and in the flood plains. Having these two pieces of information means a lot. It will enable to determine which areas will be flooded (inundated). This model has been prepared and we are looking forward to testing it in the coming 2010 flood season.
How much has this project cost so far?
About 4 Million USD
Is it worth the money?
Do you think the countries will be preventing losses due to flood damage more than 4 Million USD as a result of this project?
Yes. We have data to support this claim. In Sudan alone, for example, one flood in 1988 resulted in economic damage of over 450 million USD. Also, in 2009 around 30 Million USD worth damage was sustained in Sudan. This is excluding the unquantifiable nevertheless in some cases more important losses than economic damage such as the loss of lives; human suffering; the damage to historical sites and land marks. Similarly, during the 2006 floods, Ethiopia sustained over 600 deaths, 35, 000 person evacuations and over all 118, 000 people affected one way or the other (property damage and loss). So, you see, prevention is better – it is more cost effective and certainly reduces human suffering
I am sure you also have some concerns for the long term. I am going to ask you to tell me what your concerns are regarding sustainability; and also what broader returns you anticipate from this project in terms of building trust, regional cooperation and confidence among the three sisterly countries?
Indeed, this project is a living testimony which clearly demonstrates the benefits and imperative of cooperation among the three countries. What more noble cause could one cherish other than seeing three countries work hand in hand to avert disaster! As regards concernsh, we have established these centers and infrastructure to build and/or strengthen flood forecasting capabilities of the three countries. How well these centers are integrated and linked into existing national programs is the ultimate question. This project is in pilot phase; most of these activities need to be up-scaled i.e. it has to come to the national program planning level of the three countries. As I mentioned earlier, there were problems of assigning dedicated staff to this project in each country. The second issue that will determine sustainability is the linkage and coordination and collaboration of the three centers in the three countries. Exchange of real time rainfall and flow data was problematic. Finally, this project is phasing out in next December 2010. Hence, guiding the up-scaling of the products, enhancing coordination collaboration has to be taken over by the three countries in concert, if the gains are to be sustained. .
Are you suggesting more funding?
Yes. ENTRO needs to have a department dedicated to this task.
Let me be the devil’s advocate. The other ENTRO i.e. IDEN projects could also argue the same way, which means you are suggesting in essence a change in the nature and mandate of ENTRO.
In a way, yes. The sustainability of this project to a large extent will depend on how countries succeed to keep in focus i.e. maintain the regional, the basin i.e. eastern Nile perspective and vantage. It is easy to remain limited to the generation and exchange of rainfall and flow data within countries. However, flood protection and early warning, by its nature, is regional and requires inter-country, inter-agency collaboration. That is why I feel there still needs to be some kind of a regional coordination mechanism at ENTRO.
I figure you are soon leaving ENTRO. Is there any difference between the Dr. Babiker who first came to ENTRO/Addis and the Dr. Babiker that is leaving ENTRO/Addis after four years? Are you leaving a changed person?
Yes, I am leaving a different person for the better. I always consider my years at ENTRO as another Ph.D. program. To start with, it is transformational when I think of how my work instilled in me a regional perspective. In a way, metaphorically speaking I am transformed from being a Sudanese to being a Nile citizen. I feel I am no less an advocate for Ethiopia or Egypt than an Ethiopian or an Egyptian is. I am now more appreciative of working in multi-cultural, multi-national environment. I am also more appreciative of inter-disciplinary collaboration – working with power engineers, water resources engineers, social development and communication, modelers, etc.
|Last Updated on Monday, 22 August 2011 12:53|