An Afrocentric Approach to Tackling Climate Risk with Drones
By Sikem Brice, Unusual Solutions Grand Prize Winner
Climate change has hit African countries hard. For a continent that contributes the least to atmospheric pollution but suffers the most from extreme weather events, this injustice can be nothing short of infuriating. This is why, back in February, we pitched our idea of using drone data to improve Cameroon’s climate resilience and won the Unusual Solutions Competition. Since then, we have strengthened our team’s capacity and worked on a series of products and services that we are launching over the coming months as part of Map&Rank, our registered organization.
There is glaring evidence of conflicts and famine across Africa provoked by climate crises. Globally, about 24 million people were displaced by extreme weather events in 2019, according to the Climate and Migration Coalition. This number is three times greater than displacement from conflicts and violence. The figure in Africa is very representative, accounting for a significant proportion of country-internal migration and migration across national frontiers. The Mediterranean has become a death trap for African migrants who, amongst other factors, are escaping rising food insecurity and conflicts resulting from climate change. Prolonged and severe droughts have left once vibrant agro producing communities feeding on foreign food aid baskets. Water scarcity as a result of climate change could, in some areas, drastically reduce personal hygiene needed in the fight against COVID-19 and further puts underserved communities at risk.
For a continent that is warming faster than the global average, the urgency of addressing climate risks to recourse its impacts on suffering populations cannot be overemphasized. However, efforts to address climate risk in Africa have been compromised by the absence or sparse data availability. The IPCC 2018 report identifies a lack of data as a significant constraint for decision making in processes to reduce vulnerability, build resilience, and plan and implement adaptation strategies at different levels in Africa. Stepping in to fill this gap is Map&Rank, a Yaounde-based Cameroon startup using drones as leverage to collect and deliver tools that address the knowledge divide in climate risks data interpretation and comprehension. Incepted on the heels of its victory in the Unusual Solutions Competition, Map&Rank developed data tools that enhance climate risk awareness among disaster vulnerable communities. This includes Arula, a family game that profiles climate risk for floods, droughts, landslides, and water epidemics. It uses a step-by-step approach of climate risk education from its science to impact and adaptation to how communities can establish a supportive mechanism that builds climate resilience. The Arula data visualization game transcends educational and age differences and appeals to inclusive climate education. With an ambitious plan of generating a comprehensive digital database that will serve as a reference for disaster risk reduction and management in Cameroon and beyond, Map&Rank is only just starting. In the months ahead, the startup intends to begin developing its online digital app profiling and modeling climate risks in Cameroon’s different regions. It will then scale its SMS alert messages to inform the population on climate change and alert them of pending disasters.
Climate change is a threat, and a need to address it brings numerous opportunities for businesses and individuals willing to innovate. Expanding the climate leaders’ network to tap into climate change’s enormous possibilities is critical for an encompassing and more profound impact on climate change actions. Map&Rank has exemplified leadership by carrying out capacity building training, thus empowering youths with knowledge and skills to take on an entrepreneurial approach to addressing complex ecological challenges. These training sessions are preset around topical issues, and an expert engages the trainees on predefined themes. Map&Rank has successfully carried out three such educational exercises and hopes to scale them up as youth interest in the environment continues to surge.