By Simeon Ehui, Regional Director for Sustainable Development for Africa

A little less than a year ago, after many years focused on agriculture, I started a new and exciting role with the World Bank covering sustainable development across Africa. But while the scope of my work is new, many of the factors driving the challenges in the region are not. For example, urbanization, population growth, and climate change, to name a few, can lead to both food insecurity and disaster risk.

About 90% of all disasters in Africa are weather and climate driven and in West and Central Africa, more than 1 million people are affected by floods each year. In the last rainy season alone, nearly 2 million people were affected by floods, and more than 500,000 were displaced.

It's only going to get more complicated. Africa's population is projected to double by 2030, and its urban population is projected to grow to more than 1.2 billion by 2050, testing urban resilience of existing cities and those, yet to be built. The poorest will most likely will be hit hardest, as it is expected By 2030, up to 118 million extremely poor people in Africa, living on less than $1.25 a day, will be exposed to increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather conditions such as cyclones, drought, floods, and extreme heat.

Right now, the Bank is partnering with countries all across the continent to meet these challenges, supporting investments in urban resilience in 49 projects in 26 countries over the past year. For example, the Greater Accra Resilient and Integrated Development Project aims at improving flood risk management and solid waste management in the Odaw River Basin, with US $200 million worth of financing.

But last fall, I also got to see something different entirely. There is a vibrant community bringing together the latest in science and technology to help us deepen our understanding of risks, so we can act more effectively.

I was lucky to be part of the Understanding Risk West and Central Africa Conference (URWCA). Understanding Risk, or "UR", is a global community of nearly 10,000 experts and practitioners collaboratively building the future of disaster risk management through the creation, communication, and use of disaster risk information. Held in Abidjan in late November, URWCA was the first UR conference in the region, et la première en français.

At the conference, I was exposed to many new ideas, technologies, and actions that people were taking throughout the region. And with nearly 600 experts and practitioners from across the DRM spectrum, representing 45 countries (including 33 in Africa), there was endless room for discovery.

For instance, participants from Douala, Cameroon shared how they were using fluctuations in radio signals on the mobile phone networks to improve their early warnings system. Others from Dakar, Brazzaville, and Freetown gave examples of ways that community-based, "bottom-up" approaches to disaster-risk planning have led to more inclusive and sustainable resilience planning. And for the last two days, we had direct collaboration with the Africa OpenStreetMap community for State of the Map Africa, where we explored ways that open source geospatial technology, open data, and participatory mapping can be used to improve all kinds of resilience building efforts.

Just as important as the learning were the new connections and partnerships that were made. All around me, people were exchanging ideas and contacts, spontaneously looking for new ways to combine concepts to inform new life-saving interventions.

Since then, the world has experienced the threat of a global pandemic and we have seen in the past months that many members of the UR community are strongly concerned to direct their skills toward finding solutions. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) and Mapillary are helping to provide governments and responders with basic data needs. They have urged their community to map from home, and issued Rapid Response Microgrants to make sure, vulnerable populations are not left out of responders’ maps.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has generously provided new satellite data sets that the World Bank is using with its partners for analyzing contagion risk hotspots in dense, low-income neighborhoods of African cities. Governments are leveraging the local drone capacity for their sanitation measures, as Flying Labs Burkina Faso has helped monitoring closings of large markets in Ouagadougou. And urban development oriented NGO’s, such as UrbaSen are on the frontlines of raising awareness among urban residents and helping to provide them with basic necessities.

The ability of these practitioners and citizens to adapt to new challenges is astonishing. I encourage you to get involved and experience the UR community for yourself. If you missed the URWCA in Abidjan check out the conference proceedings and the highlight video! I promise you, you will want to be part of the next UR global conference, originally scheduled for this May, that will be held this November. I hope that many of those who took part in Côte d'Ivoire will be able to attend as well and contribute to an even bigger exchange of ideas and perspectives. You can learn more about the conference and register by visiting the UR2020 website. Register today and prepare to be inspired!