SatFlood: Providing early-warning of flash flood events in Kenya

New cross-departmental collaboration receives internal GCRF (Global Challenges Research Fund) funding.

The effects of even small flash floods in developing countries can be disastrous. In Lodwar, the capital of the Kenya’s Turkana County – the country’s poorest region – flash floods frequently take lives and cause major disruption. Floodwaters can divide the city, isolating large swathes of the population from safe drinking water, food, medical aid, and access to places of work and study.

The unpredictability of flash floods, coupled with poor communication, and the lack of a financial means to build stocks of supplies, makes it near impossible for the people of Lodwar to be well prepared for flood disasters.

A new research collaboration, funded by University of Oxford’s internal Global Challenges Research (GCRF) money, with support from the Oxford-led water security programme REACH, aims to help tackle this challenge.

In Feb 2019, Dr Simon Proud of Oxford University’s Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, and Dr Marina Korzenevica of the University’s School of Geography and the Environment, will launch SatFlood. The project will initiate a pilot study in Lodwar to assess the potential of a flash flood early-warning system based on satellite data coupled to a simple hydrological model to predict when floods may occur and provide warnings to those likely to be affected, enabling people to move to safety, return home from work and collect basic supplies, in advance of a flood.

The project aims to create a warning system appropriate to the social context of the heterogeneous local communities who have limited access to technology. A major part of this study will be to understand the social, not just technological, side of warning provision in order to explore and to discuss the optimum strategy to allow socially inclusive warnings that reach the most vulnerable people.

It is hoped that the project will provide the basis to develop and implement an operational flash flood early-warning system for East Africa in the long-term.