On 4 April 2021, Timor-Leste experienced extreme flooding. Flash floods occur regularly in the wet and dry tropical river systems of Timor-Leste, but the 2021 floods were on a scale not seen since the 1960s. The flooding came after over 350mm of rain fell in less than 8 hours, into already saturated catchments.
A large proportion of the country’s population was impacted by these floods with up to 14,000 people in official emergency evacuation centres in the immediate aftermath and many more displaced locally. In Dili, up to 60 percent of houses were damaged and over 31,000 families were affected. Tragically, there were 45 fatalities. Immediately following the floods, the Government of Timor-Leste (GoTL) requested Australia’s support to strengthen their flood response management.
A data-driven response effort was a priority for the GoTL and, in previous years, paper-based surveys and tally marks on whiteboards slowed down the process. Understanding this challenge, Australian Partner Similie suggested the use of digital tools for the Government’s official assessments for multi-sectorial and household damage. This led to AWP supporting a full digital transformation of the flood assessment process.
Similie trained over 500 government and international agency staff on the KoBo Toolbox application, which is a free digital platform designed to support data collection for coordinated humanitarian responses. This application was used to conduct a national multi-sectorial assessment and household assessments throughout Dili.
Similie also trained and mentored staff from the Timor-Leste National Disaster Operations Center (NDOC) on KoBo Toolbox and data management. Data dashboards were created using Google Data Studio to quickly show the GoTL and their partner organisations important information collected during the assessments. Once distribution was underway, Similie and AWP continued their support by providing NDOC with training on creating digital surveys and dashboards.
The use of digital tools not only made the flood assessment process more efficient and accurate but has also made data collection possible during the global pandemic. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, Government staff were unable to travel to other regional areas affected by the floods. By setting up a call centre and using KoBo Toolbox, NDOC was able to complete a national assessment of the flood supported by Similie.
This partnership has shown that using open-source digital tools can have a positive impact on the efficiency and accuracy of decision making by governments when responding to natural disasters. Through this process, the Government has improved coordination, while protecting the privacy of personal information.