Bangladesh: Community-based early warnings against flash flood


200 locals were involved in the awareness campaigns, where the early warning system using crowd-sourcing was explained and demonstrated by acting out the procedure
3 committees were formed, with members from a diverse range of local people, to create a network and monitor the effectiveness of the warning system



How can vulnerable people quickly communicate the arrival of flash floods in the absence of a formal early warning system for flash floods?

Since 13th Aug 2014, continuous rainfall, together with the onrush of water from Meghaiaya caused flash floods in low lying and densely populated areas of Northern Bangladesh. By September, 2.8 million people were affested and more than 57,000 families were displaced.

It is not just a one-off event. Devastating and extended flash flood is a recurrent phenomenon for the north-east region of Bangladesh, causing destruction of crops, infrastructure, and livelihood. However there is no localised early warning system and response plan that addresses the loss and damage, risk reduction and related specific needs of the flash flood prone communities. (Learn more about flash floods)

That's the gap that the innovators at UNDP Bangladesh attempting to fill in.  

Prototype Design


After consulting with the Bangladesh Scouts, who are engaged in community development work and themselves affected by the flash floods, the prototype design team came up with the following potential solution:


Mobile phones will be given to selected community members to correspond with the next village about the approaching flash floods, via SMS or calls. After receiving the preliminary warning, a downstream community member will rush to raise a flag. 


Normally a white flag will be there as a signal for situation of peace. When floods approach, a different one will be raised to issue warnings, with different colors indicating two levels of threat: a red one indicates that the flood being 10 to 12 hours away, and a yellow one for 24 hours distance.  


Being a Muslim-dominated region, mosques are abundant, and they would serve as a resource to broadcase the warnings, using their loud speakers to reach a wider range of people. In case the warning comes at night, the role of the mosques will be crucial to transmit information. 

Awareness Campaigns

An awareness campaign was carried out in one upstream village in India and two downstream villages in Bangladesh. 

A committee of 15 people was set up in each village, consisting of government officials, members of the union of disaster management committee, school children, local professors, and villagers, each with their designated role in the warning system. 

Area-specific training was provided: the upstream committee is trained to take necessary precaution methods and to effectively communicate with downhill community, and the downstream committee is trained to take adequate precautionary responses to warn villagers relocate to a safer place, and minimize economic loss. 


The community-based early warning system is believed to be able to build a cross-border network to reduce the risk of communities, and this idea also has immense potential to be replicated across the flood-prone country.


Page last updated: May 11, 2015

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