A mural that shows what people can do before, during or after a flood to reduce its impact. Including painted links to social media, apps, SMS services, and radio stations. That is what 'Our Flood Mural' in Beira, Mozambique is about.
This month, it will appear on a wall in a busy market area. A small but special combination of traditional and contemporary communication, fitting within the local culture, effective in its simplicity. An initiative from NWP members HKV and IHE Delft, and the Netherlands Red Cross.
The idea for 'Our Flood Mural', or 'Nosso Mural de Cheias' in Portuguese, came from HKV and IHE Delft Institute of Water Education. Together, they participated in the Living with Floods Challenge of the Dutch Coalition of Humanitarian Innovation (DCHI) and the Netherlands Red Cross.
The aim of this challenge is to help vulnerable people create a safer community for themselves by anticipating and acting now to minimise the impact of floods.
Hugo Hagedooren, Consultant Water and Climate at HKV, explains: "The idea actually arose because there is still a lot of advertising in Africa in the form of murals. It is a tradition, and still an effective means of communication. And that is very welcome, because it is precisely the last step in the provision of information that is often a problem.
There is a lot of information available, but how do you get it to the people who are at risk of being affected? And how can we ensure that they interpret it correctly, so that they then act accordingly?"
Adele Young, PhD Fellow at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, adds: "For example, we can use symbols to show how high the water came in past events, what residents can do to protect themselves and limit damage, where the safe areas are - and how to get more information.
We wanted to focus on co-creating by getting local communities involved, in a participatory process. Community ownership is essential and also important from a sustainability point of view. We want the local communities to proudly say: this is 'Our Flood Wall'."
Hugo Hagedooren: "To do this, we need to align with the resources that people actually use. A QR code, for example, is a very useful tool, but only if enough people have a smartphone. The same kinds of questions should be asked when it comes to texting alerts, apps, websites, and radio stations. A critical look at the existing information channels is needed, as well as a discussion with local authorities to make their early warning systems more effective."
Adele Young: "We have determined the best place together with the local communities: a wall next to a busy market in a neighbourhood where the floods had a major impact. Everyone will pass by; everyone will see what's on it. We also selected a local artist: Hamilton Roce Jordão. His style is very suitable for this project and we are very impressed by his work."
Hugo Hagedooren: "We learn a lot from it ourselves. Our solutions work better when they are connected to local circumstances, when people make better use of them. A system alone will not get you there."
For the Netherlands Red Cross, the pilot is an example of humanitarian innovation, explains Michel Becks, Strategic Coordinator Water & Innovation: "We are always there when a disaster occurs, but prevention is also important to us.
Immediately after the floods caused by Cyclone Idai on 15 March 2019, we provided emergency relief, but we also decided to commit some resources to help people prevent and mitigate flood impact in the future. Because if there is less damage, we will have to provide less emergency aid, have fewer items to distribute and less to repair.
Our first reflex as Red Cross is always to solve problems ourselves. But we also know that Mozambique already has a strong local network of private and public parties, and there is established involvement from the Dutch water sector in Beira as well. We wanted to challenge the private sector and community-based organisations to collaborate more, with each other, and with local parties.
We want to help connect the Dutch water sector to the local humanitarian context. In the matchmaking process, HKV and IHE rose above the other solution partners, their concept fitted seamlessly with what we want to achieve. We believe the result of our joint effort will be better than if we were to do it on our own."
The beauty of our solution lies in its simplicity.
The mural is currently being created, but the initiators are already thinking about wider application, says Michel Becks: "We feel it is a high-potential concept that fits well as a flood response, and working together we are able to be more cost-effective and achieve higher impact."
Adele Young agrees: "There is still a lot of uncertainty in Mozambique. Change is the only constant and that makes it all the more exciting. But the pilot can be a springboard. We want to learn as much as possible during the pilot about what works and what doesn't and subsequently improve. We can then apply that knowledge and experience elsewhere in Mozambique and in other countries, adapted to local circumstances and again on the basis of community ownership."
Because, as Hugo Hagedooren concludes: "The beauty of our solution lies in its simplicity."