[SE20-DRR]: High-Tech and/or Low-Tech for DRR in the Global South. What works, what doesn’t?

DAY 1 – Wednesday 27 June – 1:30pm-3:00pm
Swiss Tech | Room 1C | Level Garden


Session Leaders

Karen Sudmeier-Rieux

Université de Lausanne, Switzerland


Dr. Karen Sudmeier-Rieux is a Senior Advisor, Disaster Risk Reduction with UN Environment, Post-conflict disaster management branch in Geneva since 2012. Karen has over a decade of experience with ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction and has developed numerous training materials, a Post-graduate course and an online course: “Disasters and Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate” on the topic. She is currently managing a project on Integrated Strategic Environmental Assessment in post-crisis contexts in Nepal, Côte d’Ivoire and Sri Lanka.  She is also an associate researcher at the University of Lausanne, and has published extensively on landslide management in Nepal and community resilience. She holds a PhD in Environmental Science from the University of Lausanne and Masters’ degrees in international development and forest ecology.

Sanjaya Devokta

Institute of Engineering, Nepal


 Sanjaya Devkota is a Civil Engineer by profession and engaging as a research fellow at the Institute of Engineering, Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He has MSc in Geo-Hazards and currently finishing his PhD in Climate Induced Disasters in which he is seeking perspectives of Eco-Engineering that could help the community people to be climate resilient.  He specializes in geological hazard-risk assessment and mitigation through Eco-engineering. He introduced Vetiver Grass System first time in Nepal to mitigate shallow landslides and river bank protection as a tool. Mr. Devkota is consulted extensively for the Government of Nepal and international development organizations such as UNDP, World Bank, SDC-HELVETAS and IUCN.




When disaster strikes, communities are the first to respond and in many cases, the only responders in remote areas of the Global South, and even in the Global North. Communities are in most cases the best ‘local experts of DRR’ as they are often frequently monitoring local signs of pending hazard events and may evacuate spontaneously in absence of an official order. In parallel, development of high-tech solutions to DRR has considerably advanced early warning, evacuation and communications during hazard events, saving many lives and livelihoods. ‘Low-tech’ solutions are becoming more affordable, locally available and widespread, such as flood risk or landslide- early warning systems. However, oftentimes, such systems are put in place by foreign projects, NGOs, or Universities and may seize to function once the project has ended, with little transfer of technology to local communities or government. Whether ‘high-tech’ or ‘low-tech’ technologies (e.g. risk mapping, or community-based hazard monitoring) promote local empowerment, technology transfers and transmission of knowledge is another question. This session encourages presentations, which give good and bad examples of how ‘high-tech’ and ‘low-tech’ technologies and approaches to DRR have promoted more lasting outcomes and social inclusion, with special regards to women and minority groups for sustainable DRR.


Panelists and Abstracts


Women Centric Low Tech Flood Early Warning System under Climate Change in Himalaya

Bhagwati Joshi2, Prakash C. Tiwari2

1Assistant Professor of Geography, Government Post Graduate College, Rudrapur 263153, Uttarakhand, India

2Professor of Geography, Kumaun University, Nainital 263001, Uttarakhand, India


Presenting author’s email address: bhawanatiwari@yahoo.com


Biography of Presenting Author: Dr. Bhagwati Joshi is Assistant Professor of Geography at Government Post Graduate College, Rudrapur, Uttarakhand, India. She is a sustainable mountain development and climate change specialist, and has been working on participatory natural resource management, community based climate change adaptation, mountain livelihood and food security, gender mainstreaming and disaster risk reduction with GIS and remote sensing applications under various international multi-institutional collaborative projects. Dr. Joshi has worked in these areas in various institutions of excellence in India and abroad. 



Constraints of livelihood, poverty, and gender inequalities increased vulnerability of women to climate change induced natural disasters in Himalaya.  work aims to develop women-centric flood early warning system (OCFEWS) which provides vulnerable downstream communities with sufficient lead time to save lives, assets and livelihoods; and empower women in monitoring climatic information and development of early warning system at micro-watershed level in Middle Himalaya. Low-cost weather monitoring stations were installed in 5 villages in up-stream villages; and women were educated and trained in making observations and generating flood-risk information, and communicating this to downstream villages using mobile phones. This provided 21500 women time to usher their families and livestock to safety, and saved  955 human lives including 595 women and 5795 livestock from flash-floods over last decade. This can make difference between survival and disaster if implemented jointly by local disaster management authorities and grass-root community institutions across the Himalayan mountains.


Productive Protection and Multiple Benefits: The Potential of Linking Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Land Management to Address Multi-Hazards and Build Resilience.


Nicole Harari1, Anton Jöhr2, Eveline Studer3, Jana Junghardt4, Judith Macchi5, Hanspeter Liniger1, Boris Orlowsky4
1Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Switzerland

2 Swiss Red Cross, Bern, Switzerland

3HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, Zurich, Switzerland

4CARITAS Switzerland, Lucerne, Switzerland

5HEKS-EPER, Zurich, Switzerland


Presenting author’s email address: nicole.harari@cde.unibe.ch


Biography of Presenting Author: Nicole Harari is a research scientist at the Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Switzerland with a MSc in Geography. She is coordinating different projects with various organizations such as the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) or the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and in particular on scaling-up SLM and decision support for SLM together with the Secretariat of the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT)..



Simple Sustainable Land Management (SLM) measures can substantially reduce impacts of hazards. They address several natural hazards simultaneously, are low-cost, and based on simple local technology. Such efficient, cost-effective risk reduc¬tion measures have a great scaling-up potential. SLM produces multiple benefits: it protects people from hazards, strengthens ecosystems and creates livelihood opportunities – all essential elements for resilience strengthening. A variety of land-related practices in disaster risk reduction (DRR) exist around the globe, numerous are promoted in the Global South by NGOs of the Swiss NGO DRR Platform. In a joint initiative with the Centre for Development and Environment, 44 practices have been analysed using the standardized tools of World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies, showing the role and potential of land-related solutions in DRR. The result is a reference tool for practitioners, the publication ‘where people and their land are safer – A Compendium of Good Practices in DRR’.


Citizen Science for Disaster Risk Reduction: a Geo-Observer Network in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda


Liesbet Jacobs1,2,3, Clovis Kabaseke4, Rose Katutu4, Jan Maes1,2,  Kewan Mertens5, Olivier Dewitte3, Matthieu Kervyn2

1 KU Leuven, Division of Geography and Tourism, Celestijnenlaan 200E, 3001 Leuven, Belgium

2 Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Department of Geography, Earth System Science, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

3 Royal Museum for Central Africa, Department of Earth Sciences, Leuvensesteenweg 13, 3080 Tervuren, Belgium

4 School of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Mountains of the Moon University, Fort Portal, Uganda

5 KU Leuven, Division of Bio-economics, Celestijnenlaan 200E, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium


Presenting author’s email address: liesbet.jacobs@kuleuven.be


Biography of presenting author: Lies Jacobs is a bio-science engineer by training and graduated from KU Leuven in 2013 after which she started her PhD at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. During the past four years, her research focus was on the spatial and temporal prediction of landslides in humid tropical environments in central Africa using various methodologies ranging from field-based data collection and crowd-sourcing, to statistical and physically-based modelling. Lies is currently affiliated as a lecturer and researcher at the KU Leuven.



Effective disaster risk reduction requires both thorough knowledge on the prevailing hazards and their impacts as well as a close involvement of the population at risk. Both requirements are challenging, especially in equatorial Africa, a region characterized by rapid population growth and exposed to an expected increase in natural hazards due to the effects of climate change. A recently launched pilot project aims at engaging local communities in the data-collection needed to better understand the hazards they are facing and their impacts. In total, 21 geo-observers are trained to report on natural hazards that occur within their parish of residence through a mobile phone.  This project takes place in the Rwenzori region (Uganda), frequently affected by various disasters. First results, both with regard to the data collection as well as the effects of the geo-observer network on their communities in terms of capacity building and awareness are promising. 


Utilizing Indigenous Knowledge of Place Names in Producing Community-Scaled Landslide Susceptibility Maps in the Philippine Cordilleras


Rachel Guimbatan-Fadgyas1

1Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners, Philippines


Presenting author’s email address: rguimbatan@gmail.com


Biography of Presenting Author: Rachel Guimbatan-Fadgyas is a professional architect and environmental planner from the Philippines. Belonging to an indigenous community, she spent more than 10 years of her profession working on indigenous knowledge valorization in heritage protection, local land use and development planning. Rachel took her bachelor’s degree and post-graduate studies in the University of the Philippines. She also studied natural resources and conflict management at Cornell University.



This study presents findings of a participatory action research that explored the process of interfacing indigenous knowledge (IK) of place names and land histories with scientific knowledge to produce landslide susceptibility maps at the community level. Research activities were conducted in indigenous communities along a 129-kilometer section of the national road servicing the Province of Ifugao in the Philippine Cordilleras. The research explored the interface of community-informed maps with thematic maps of causative factors of landslides to produce susceptibility maps. Outputs include a methodology approach and maps that are appreciated by the community. It recommends capacity-building for mapping facilitators as well as technical studies that must explore ways of utilizing indigenous intellectual capital through tools that are appropriate and user-friendly. The researcher also draws attention on the need of disaster-hit communities for support systems that would stabilize their capacities and enable them to utilize their indigenous knowledge in problem-solving.


An overview of potential impact of High-Tech and/or Low–Tech monitoring and early warning systems for landslides.


Zar Chi Aye1, Marc-Henri Derron1, Michel Jaboyedoff1, François Noël1, Karen Sudmeier-Rieux1, Jérémie Voumard1

1Institut des sciences de la terre, Université de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland


Presenting author’s email address: michel.jaboyedoff@unil.ch


Biography of Presenting Author: Michel Jaboyedoff is a geologist with a degree in physics and a PhD in clay mineralogy. He started doing research on natural hazards in 1994. Since 2005, he is a full professor at the University of Lausanne, focusing his research on natural hazards and related risks and integrated risk analysis. He worked in several risk management projects around the world (Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Nepal, Norway, Switzerland …). Most of his applied researches are designed to be transferable to poor countries.



Rapid population growth in poor countries places pressure on land occupation. It leads people to settle in dangerous zones, increasing their exposure to hazard events, or triggering hazards (e.g. human-induced landslides). These threats can be identified and addressed if populations are empowered, by being able to understand and to reduce these risks through efficient mitigation and early warning systems (EWS).

Nowadays, smartphones and computers are widely used around the world. The availability of free and open-source software, documentations, and meteorological forecasts can allow populations, often well aware of risks to access and manage information by designing monitoring systems (MS) or EWS. As a consequence, by providing populations access to simple tools or more sophisticated information systems, i.e, 3D landscape images based on simple mobile photos of hazard events or slopes or cheap drones, the MS and EWS can be greatly improved. Such systems can also be supported through WEBGIS platforms.


Preliminary Study on the Effectiveness of Low-Cost Air Cleaning Devices in Reducing Indoor Air Particulate Matter During the Haze Season in Indonesia


Nanis Sakti Ningrum1, Jean Pierre Wack2,

1 Senior Analyst in Kopernik, Bali, Indonesia

2 Technical Consultant of UNICEF, Jakarta, Indonesia


Presenting author’s email address: nanis.sakti@kopernik.info


Biography of Presenting Author: Nanis Sakti Ningrum, a Senior Analyst for Kopernik’s Solutions Lab, led an experimentation project testing the effectiveness of Haze Emergency Kits in reducing people’s health risk during a haze crisis. She has an environmental engineering degree from NTU Singapore and a joint master’s degree in Hydroinformatics from universities in France, Germany, and the UK. Prior to working at Kopernik, Ms. Sakti Ningrum was as an engineer with a Singaporean consulting firm and a research assistant at NTU University



Communities affected by fine air pollution particles (particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns; PM 2.5), produced by fires in Indonesia, require more cost-effective methods to reduce health risks. Built-in air cleaning devices effectively reduce indoor PM2.5, however high retail price prohibits access to such products in developing countries. We identified an alternative low-tech air-cleaning device known as a Fan-Filter Unit (FFU) which could be more appropriate for rural areas affected by haze. This study evaluated the effectiveness of a FFU for use in extreme air pollution events. We tested FFUs against other “haze hacks” used to combat indoor air pollution in houses and classrooms. Our findings show that FFUs are able to reduce PM2.5 three to thirteen times more effectively than other low-cost solutions and that using FFUs to replace existing measures in haze-free classrooms could double the performance with minimal additional costs.