Participatory Geographical Information System and Space-Based Technology for Disaster Risk Management in Poor Communities

Santa Josefa town in the province of Agusan del Sur, Mindanao, is among the most flood-prone areas in the Philippines. The town sits on the upper and middle portions of the Agusan River basin, the third largest in the country, and experiences year-round rains and occasional tropical cyclones that increase the risks of floods and landslides.

In 2016, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, through its Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services-National Community-Driven Development Program (KC-NCDDP), initiated a pilot test of the Participatory Geographical Information System and Space-based Technology (PGIS-SBT) to map the communities in Santa Josefa. PGIS-SBT uses open-source mobile and web applications which collect and share reliable and timely disaster-related data at the local government and community levels to strengthen their disaster planning and mitigation and support timely and cost-effective post-disaster response, recovery, and reconstruction efforts. Local government officials and employees, as well as residents, welcomed the innovation and the promise it brings of making the town better prepared for disasters.

With the mobile and web applications, the local government and community can create accurate base maps with astounding details that are crucial in development planning as well as disaster monitoring and response during community workshops. The communities used to rely on hand-drawn maps created using simple analytical tools during community assemblies to illustrate infrastructure and hazards present in a particular village.

In February 2017, heavy rains poured and flooded certain villages in Santa Josefa while a PGIS-SBT training workshop was ongoing. Participating local government officials, employees, and community volunteers immediately went to work to apply what they have learned. The volunteers, called “Santa Josefa Agusan Del Sur (SJADS) Mappers,” eagerly roamed the community while taking photos and recording their observations, which were later uploaded online and shared with local government employees who were monitoring the situation at the municipal hall and coordinating for prompt disaster response.

Though using mobile and web applications appeared difficult to residents and local government employees at first, they overcame their apprehension after witnessing how the PGIS-SBT’s crisis-mapping feature facilitates better planning and quicker response operations from the local government.

Municipal Community Empowerment Facilitator Cornelio Cabreto echoes the community’s appreciation of PGIS-SBT. He shared, “Having this technology is an advantage. The local government unit will know the actual situation in the area so it can respond promptly. Communications will also be easier for us in times of disasters and emergencies.”

The local government unit of Santa Josefa has already acquired the equipment required to use the mapping software applications, which can be operated offline and complement the traditional disaster risk management practices such as the use of megaphones for early warnings. In fact, the data generated during the pilot test were used to draft the village’s first disaster risk reduction and management plan.

The PGIS-SBT pilot test presented how the use of participatory approach and tools along with complementing science-based and indigenous knowledge can make disaster risk management effective in a poor community. It also opened the opportunity for national government agencies involved in disaster risk reduction and management such as the Department of Information, Communication and Technology; the Department of Science and Technology; the Department of the Interior and Local Government; the Department of Environment and Natural Resources; the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology; and the Department of Social Welfare and Development to discuss the creation of an enabling policy and provision of capability-building support to implement and replicate such technology for efficient disaster response and sustainable community monitoring. #