Sofie Campbell

March 4, 2024

Why are we talking about a flood warning system on International Women’s Day?

This International Women’s Day, we’re taking an up-close look at a unique and important Ramboll project that puts climate change and gender equality together at centre stage.  For this project, the Baguio City Project in the Philippines, Ramboll delivered a Smart Flood Early Warning, Information and Mitigation System designed to make sure no one is left behind when it matters most.

Baguio City, Philippines
Why Baguio City?
Baguio is a city on the Northern Philippine Island of Luzon. Known as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines”, Baguio city has a population of nearly 400,000 and is situated atop a mountain measuring 1,470 meters above sea level. And most importantly for the context of this project, Baguio experiences an extraordinary amount of precipitation each year. 3.9 metres, to be exact.
All that water poses a very real challenge for local people and infrastructure. Baguio routinely experiences extreme flooding events that jeopardise the well-being of its communities and that disproportionately affect vulnerable and marginalised groups, like women, widows, and people living with a disability.
As a city in Asia Pacific, one of the regions most affected by climate change today, Baguio City’s strategic vision is to become a resilient city. This means developing plans and systems that can help the city manage crises, like floods, more effectively. With financial support from the ASEAN Australia Smart Cities Trust Fund, Baguio City established the project in 2020 and Ramboll started working right away with our main partner for the project, Practical Action Consulting, to build the city’s smart flood early warning system.
Baguio City
Disseminating life-saving information
The idea behind the system is that it cascades crucial information and warnings along a strategically selected group of stakeholders. Firstly, the technical team is notified, then the mayor’s office, law enforcement, Emergency Response teams, NGOs and CBOs, local spokespeople like heads of schools and religious groups, and finally, individual households. Using this cascade model, the path to sharing information can remain as organised and credible as possible.
And the reality is that when these kinds of disasters happen, there is most often a devastatingly large knowledge gap. Not everyone gets the right information when they need it. And the affects are lasting. This smart flood early warning system democratises that knowledge gap so that everyone – regardless of class, gender, economic status, religion, etc. – can understand what is happening and how to navigate their environment as safely as possible.
“Disasters are not gender-neutral”
Before the technical work began, the group studied the context in which the smart flood early warning system would come to serve. This involved combining data from community surveys, interviews, local groups, and government agencies with data collected using Practical Action’s UN Women-endorsed “Missing Voices” methodology, which involves less common qualitative data collection practices, like phone interviews and going door-to-door, that enhance the diversity of inputs.
“The holistic approach gave the project group insights into how gender affects people’s experience of floods, and with the Missing Voices approach, we could better understand the experiences of people with intersecting vulnerabilities like women widows, elderly women, or women living with a disability,” explains Alison Sneddon, Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor with Practical Action Consulting. “These people from vulnerable or marginalized groups are often missing from the data because they’re hard to reach or because they’re not comfortable speaking with researchers. And when they’re missing from the data, it means they’re missing from policies.” The report gave recommendations on nine key areas, guiding the entire technical part of the project.
“There was a massive focus on the people on the ground,” explains Prajnya Nayak, Flood Early Warning System Lead from Ramboll. “And I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm for learning on a project,” she continues. “When we started, the city didn’t have a background in technical solutions which meant that we had to train them. And the amazing thing is that now they have that technical expertise.
So what is so unique about the Baguio smart flood early warning system?
Most often, when Ramboll works on a project like this, we focus on the technology. Our colleagues examine the problem, conduct research, use the data, and put forward the most effective technical solution. This project is different.
With the project grounded in a Baguio City Gender and Inclusion Study, every aspect of the smart flood early warning system was designed to take population diversity and vulnerable communities into account. That means offering many languages within the system, managing false warnings to avoid diminishing trust in the system, and designing lead time to be most helpful to impacted communities.
It also means re-examining terminology. A great number of people really do not understand what 50 millimetres of water falling within 60 minutes means for them. It is difficult to visualise. To address this common issue, the project team dedicated time and effort to understanding how people actually use information and how they can provide it in an accessible way.
“At Ramboll, we’re empowered to help a lot of people. We have knowledge from so many sectors and can provide clients with best practices. But our learning must never stop. There’s always something new we can implement better than before,” concludes Prajnya.
The team behind the Baguio City project
A dynamic project team
This truly triumphant project was delivered by a diverse team, including a host of Ramboll colleagues from Ramboll Water, Ramboll UK, and the Ramboll Engineering Centre in India, who worked closely with our client and other project partners. The Ramboll team, led by Alvaro Fonseca, Senior Chief Consultant, collaborated closely with local governmental representatives from the Baguio City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office like Antonette Anaban and Stephanie Trinidad to ensure that the project at every stage stayed true to the mission of advancing safety and gender equality and inclusion in Baguio City. With a diverse and international team, inclusion was part of the project DNA right from the start.

“At Ramboll, we’re empowered to help a lot of people. We have knowledge from so many sectors and can provide clients with best practices. But our learning must never stop. There’s always something new we can implement better than before,”

Prajnya Nayak
Flood Early Warning System Lead from Ramboll

Want to know more?

  • Alvaro Fonseca

    Senior Chief Consultant

    +45 51 61 16 19