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Supporting urban community climate resilience in East Africa

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CEO and Founder of Resurgence, Mark Harvey, discusses the organisation's plan to integrate World Risk Poll data into their award-winning DARAJA inclusive early warning service to support climate-stressed communities in three cities in the region.

£2 million £2 million

total investment by Lloyd's Register Foundation in 2023 into projects to put the World Risk Poll into action.

What problem is your project aiming to address?

In cities across Africa, Asia, and the world, there's a big difference between people who have a lot and those who don't. In the crowded neighbourhoods, slums or informal settlements, where not everyone has much, something really important is missing: easy to understand weather forecasts and warnings.

While we casually check the weather, many people in these areas can't, and that's a big deal. It's not just about convenience; it's about staying safe and strong when things like bad weather happen. For those on the outskirts of the city, life is tough – they face floods, cyclones, heatwaves and major storms without knowing they're coming. So, asking for better weather information is not just a request; it’s a call for empowerment, resilience, and the promise of a more equitable future. And it’s a big problem because there are over a billion people living in unplanned city areas like this, so that’s a billion who are not in a good position to anticipate high impact weather events to protect themselves, their families and their property.

How are you going to go about this?

Resurgence and a wide range of partners are tackling this urgent challenge through our initiative, DARAJA, which means ‘bridge’ in Swahili, a key language of East Africa. We are working in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan to create a ‘bridge’ for weather forecasts and early warnings between the communities based in city’s informal settlements and the national weather agencies.

In order to build that bridge we will do several things, including examining in depth the way in which communities may or may not receive weather information, bringing these communities together with the forecasters to create more accurate and easier to understand local forecasts, and working with them all to re-design the system of communicating forecasts and alerts.

We're changing things by starting from the ground up. Instead of relying on official media channels that many communities don't use, we're focusing on the channels and ways local people already trust and use to communicate. It's like giving the microphone to the community. This way, we make sure our changes really connect with the people who matter the most.

Who will this make safer, and how?

We could say that DARAJA will make safer “highly vulnerable people”, but the reality is that it will protect thousands of people like you and I living in cities who happen to live in unplanned areas of the city and be underserved by their national forecasters and the official early warning systems.

These people are often traders, teachers, cooks, construction workers, drivers and security guards by profession. They have families and form the lifeblood of their communities, making their way across the city every day to go about their business.

From our award-winning pilot work in Nairobi (in Kenya) and Dar es Salaam (in Tanzania) we know that DARAJA made them safer by allowing them to act in advance of warnings of storms and floods, for instance, by unclogging drains and repairing leaky roofs. DARAJA made a real difference. It helped save lives and made sure communities didn't lose as much money because they had already protected their property and possessions.

How does the World Risk Poll data enable this project? What can you do with it that you couldn’t otherwise?

The World Risk Poll resilience data is a treasure trove of information relevant to the work of DARAJA, and is unusual in that it looks at public sentiment and trust related to risk and risk information - something DARAJA has a laser focus on.

Specifically, DARAJA will be using the World Risk Poll datasets for Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and hopefully, Ethiopia for validation of our research on the ground, for pinpointing specific weather hazards that communities want better information and early warning on, for advocacy to national governments, for operationalising into the design of local early warning systems, and to support the global scaling of DARAJA. 

Regarding scaling, for instance, we know that The World Risk Poll is the only dataset to have anything approaching the reach and ambition of the UN Early Warnings for All Initiative, to cover all countries and people on this planet.


Who do you want to talk to, to enhance the impact of this project, and how can they get in touch?

You ask this question at a very opportune moment for us. We have just won a coveted World Habitat Award, in partnership with UN-Habitat, for the positive impact that DARAJA has created in helping communities protect themselves from climate loss and damage.

We are currently overwhelmed by requests from local community organisations - many of them affiliates of Slum Dwellers International - to bring DARAJA to their cities and communities. We simply don’t have the capacity and the resources to support them. We’d love to talk, therefore, to anybody working in philanthropy considering investing, like Lloyd's Register Foundation, in the kind of frontline work, in climate adaptation and resilience, that we do.

The DARAJA model is a powerful tool that's proven to make a big impact without costing much or posing significant risks. But right now, its potential is limited – it's waiting to do even more on a worldwide scale. We're inviting philanthropic support to take DARAJA to new heights. It's a chance to be part of something big, reaching over 120 countries, like in the World Risk Poll. An investment isn't just a transaction; it's what will make DARAJA go beyond its limits, helping many vulnerable individuals. DARAJA can make a real difference globally – increasing impact, reducing risks, and creating positive change for all.