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Flooding in Macedonia Tests a Smartphone Early Warning App

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, July 26 2013

Flooding in Macedonia in 2006 (Flickr/Novica Nakov)

When the southeastern region Macedonia flooded in February after three days of heavy rain, locals could log into a smartphone application to get up to the minute disaster information. It was a not so dry run of a new app developed by students and professors at the University of Skopje's Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and backed with a US $10,000 grant from the UNDP Innovation Fund.

The flooding in February covered 80 percent of the land in the region, and damaged more than 400 homes. Flooding in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is, according to a UNDP news story, become more frequent, intense and causing more damage.

“We were cut off for two days and without drinking water, but at least we were able to keep informed about what was happening through our smart phones and this new app,” said one Vase Krstev, who lives in the village of Murtino, in the Strumica municipality.

The app is more than an early detection warning system, however. It is also a source of disaster data, so to speak. It is the brain child of Vasko Popovski, UNDP's Project Manager for Disaster and Climate Risks.

With a swipe on the screen one can:

[scroll] through a dozen screens listing every dangerous event currently verified and recorded in the country—from floods to power station malfunctions and floods—with maps clearly detailing the exact locations of each event. Clicking on a highlighted location brings up specific information about the status of the event and essential advice and information on how to deal with the danger, including emergency service numbers and links for alerting others to the problem.

Obviously the effectiveness of the app depends on the number of smartphone owners and users, which according to some is still quite low in Macedonia. Still, Vasko says it's better than the old methods: newspapers, television and radio.

He elaborates:

With this app, just at this first stage you’ll have twenty per cent of mobile phone subscribers getting access to up-to-date info on dangers. All the research shows that reducing the impact of emergency situations depends on as many people as possible being informed as quickly as possible—and that’s what this app is about.

Whether 20 percent of mobile phone subscribers is really "as many people as possible" is questionable. An alert system for simple feature phones would obviously reach more people, but perhaps the added value of maps and other smartphone-only features is worth that trade off, especially if the number of smartphone users grows drastically in the next few years.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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