The Waterproofing Data team surveys residents of the M’Boi Mirim neighborhood in São Paulo, 2019. Credit: Waterproofing Data

The app, developed in collaboration with vulnerable communities to communicate early warnings about the risk of floods and environmental disasters, has become public policy in Brazil, and the methodology is being replicated for use elsewhere. With practical results due in 2022, part of the discussion, which includes proposals to improve flood risk management, began at least two years ago.

The article published in Disaster Prevention and Control: An International Journal reflects one of the milestones of this process: a workshop held in June 2020 for researchers from Brazil and the UK to share knowledge as part of the Waterproofing Data (WPD) project.

The project is an international partnership involving the Universities of Glasgow and Warwick (UK), the University of Heidelberg (Germany), the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) and the National Disaster Monitoring and Early Warning Center (CEMADEN) in Brazil.

The authors of the paper note that the workshop participants identified major gaps in research in both countries due to a lack of local data, data integration systems and data visualization tools, as well as a lack of communication between flood preventive institutions. The solutions promoted include interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge sharing, focusing on tools, methods and policies used in Brazil and the UK, in an attempt to develop innovative initiatives that improve flood risk management.

“From the results of the discussions, we realized that both countries face the problem of engaging citizens in action to prevent floods and getting experts to talk in a way that reaches people at the grassroots level. If people living in high-risk areas do not participate, actions are less effective. The ways and means chosen to overcome these challenges will vary. Strategies must be specific and correspond to the characteristics of each population group,” Joao Porto de Albuquerque, a researcher at the University of Glasgow and one of the authors of the article, told Agência FAPESP.

For Victor Marchesini, CEMADEN researcher and corresponding author of the paper, Waterproofing Data is a particularly innovative project because it helps institutions use the methodology to promote community participation and spend citizen science.

“Too often institutions are not ready for this. There is a cultural resistance to the potential of citizen science to expand participation in flood warning and prevention systems,” he said.

Innovative tools

WPD researchers set out to change the way flood data is collected by developing innovative tools that make data generation, dissemination and use more visible, and by creating new kinds of information at the local level through citizen engagement. The ultimate goal is to integrate the results with geo-computational techniques and help local communities become more flood resilient.

In this vein, in January the project launched an app for Brazilians living in flood-prone areas that can feed data into early warning services and for local governments to map high-risk areas to improve disaster prevention.

Using the principle of citizen science, the researchers trained public school students to set up homemade rain gauges using PET bottles and simple rulers to collect data for the system. Each student is responsible for recording the daily amount of precipitation measured by the rain gauge and entering the data into a program that sends it to the system’s database.

The tool has been tested by teachers, students, civil defense workers and ordinary citizens in more than 20 cities and towns in the states of Pernambuco, Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso, Acre and São Paulo. The new dashboard version is available and will have nationwide coverage when it becomes a state policy system implemented by CEMADEN, which will be responsible for its management.

In addition, in June the project produced a study guide to engage students in obtaining data and knowledge about the disasters caused by excessive water flows and the lack of urban sewage in their areas and cities. The methodology will continue to be disseminated by the CEMADEN educational program, which is a project partner.

“The article was published after the launch of the tool, but it became the basis for the approach used in the project,” said Albuquerque. “We are committed to engaging communities, civil defense personnel and end users. A key contribution of the project is the citizen science methodology.”

He gave the example of Jaboatão dos Guararapes, a town in the capital city of Recife, in the state of Pernambuco. Almost half of the 130 deaths reported in Pernambuco since the end of May due to floods and storms have occurred in the city.

“Some areas of the city have cooperated with us in piloting the application. People continued to use it. We heard that on May 25th one of the citizen scientists used it to warn people that there was going to be a lot more rain than usual for this time of year. . The community mobilized and helped evacuate high-risk areas, avoiding loss of life there. We did the training, people continued to use the tool, and effective precautions were taken,” Albuquerque said.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), floods and extreme rainfall events will become more frequent as global warming continues. By 2050, 1 billion people will face the risk of coastal inundation due to sea level rise, and more people will be forced from their homes by extreme weather conditions, especially floods.

Moreover, if the global average temperature rises 1.5 °C above the pre-industrial average, the number of people exposed to flooding worldwide could increase by 24%.


The webinar took place on June 8, 2020. It lasted four hours and was attended by more than 40 civil servants, researchers in the natural and social sciences, as well as practitioners and other professionals in the field of flood forecasting, prevention and response in Brazil and Great Britain.

The first part focused on six individual presentations on flood risk management and citizen science in two countries. The second part was devoted to focus groups. Participants were divided into four groups to discuss flood risk knowledge, flood forecasting and monitoring, flood risk communication and management.

“An important aspect of the project is the contribution of local communities and connecting the discussion to local universities that can act as multipliers. When they are threatened, residents of high-risk areas seek information. The app is a way to connect a reliable system involving a number of actors” , – said Marchesini.

According to an estimate by CEMADEN, based on a study carried out in partnership with IBGE, the national statistics office, in Brazil, in 872 municipalities, about 8.2 million people live in areas prone to landslides and floods.

On the other hand, only 1,538 (27.6%) of Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities have a flood prevention plan.

Data-driven citizen science is changing the way communities deal with floods

Additional information:
Victor Marchesini et al., Flood Risk Management in Brazil and the UK: Promoting Knowledge Sharing through Research Gaps and the Potential of Citizen-Generated Data, Disaster Prevention and Control: An International Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1108/DPM-01-2022-0016

Citation: Study Shows Challenge of Promoting Citizen Science to Prevent Flood Disasters (2022, October 5) Retrieved October 5, 2022, from

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