Facebook joins flood, drought alert efforts on Mekong River

By Nguyen Quy   September 1, 2020 | 04:00 am PT
Facebook joins flood, drought alert efforts on Mekong River
A view of the Mekong river bordering Thailand and Laos is seen from the Thai side in Nong Khai, Thailand, October 29, 2019. Photo by Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun.
Facebook and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) launched a collaboration initiative Monday to provide early flood alert and drought monitoring information to Mekong nations.

The MRC stated it has installed 22 hydrological stations along the main channel in the lower Mekong River basin to monitor and collect river water level and rainfall data, which feeds into its Mekong Flood and Drought Forecasting System.

The system provides the public and riparian governments with daily river water level data, including flood alerts and drought forecasting throughout the year. The system will be explained through a 3D animated video, which will be shared on Facebook to reach communities across the region.

Facebook will also train officials from the four MRC member countries Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam on how to use different digital tools to communicate effectively and quickly during and after a disaster, according to an MRC statement.

This will include a training on Facebook’s Population Density Maps, an application that uses state-of-the-art computer visual techniques to combine publicly and commercially available datasets with Facebook’s AI capabilities. The maps are three times more detailed than available sources.

The collaboration aims to raise public awareness in the four countries about the flood and drought information systems and build capacity for relevant officials on the use of online digital systems.

Mekong River flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

According to a United Nations report on economic losses, poverty and disasters, the last two decades have seen direct economic losses from climate-related disasters increase by up to 250 percent.

The MRC estimates that while seasonal flooding brings diverse benefits to the region, the average annual cost of floods in the lower Mekong basin is approximately $60-70 million. Cambodia and Vietnam alone account for approximately two-thirds of the Mekong region’s total annual flood damage.

"We see the utmost importance of providing timely and reliable information on water levels to Mekong countries and communities exposed to flood and drought and an ever changing climate so that they can take action in time to avoid or reduce their risk and prepare an effective response," said Anoulak Kittikhoun, MRCS chief strategy and partnership officer, as cited in the statement.

Recent studies by the Mekong River Commission have shown that drought in the lower Mekong basin has increased in frequency and severity in recent decades. Water levels in the river also hit a critical low during summer last year, the commission stated in July 2019.

Unseasonably low rainfall, weak water output from upstream areas caused by maintenance work at the Jinghong hydropower dam in China, and severe drought in several Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, last summer had led to massive declines in water levels and severely disrupted the lives of millions who depend on the river for their livelihood, it said.

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