By Emma Hanley, Major Partnerships Manager (Asia), ActionAid
Known as the ‘rice bowl’ of the country, the Mekong Delta region in southern Vietnam stretches across lush greenery interlaced with rivers and canals. Fertile and densely-populated, it is home to 17 million people.
Though beautiful, it is a fragile ecosystem. The flatland is vulnerable to natural hazards, including flash floods, cyclones and saline intrusion, making it one of the world’s three most vulnerable deltas. Predictions of sea-levels rising imply serious consequences for the millions of residents reliant on the delta.
Since 2014, we have been working with the Vietnamese government and Microsoft to improve disaster risk management, creating a communications network which involves three remote communes comprising 16 villages—totalling 28,000 residents—in the Soc Trang province.
For this project, we use the Microsoft Data Gathering tool, a comprehensive solution that enables data collection with mobile phones and tablets. This tool also allows information to be shared between the communities and the local government.
Firstly, trained data collectors in each village gather data via mobile devices, which comprise primarily of the area’s weather conditions and vulnerability to disasters, as well as agricultural information such as crop and animal health, and soil salinity. These are then collated at the commune level and sent back to the district-level information hub, where the data can be mapped and analysed to help improve disaster preparedness and planning by the government.
At the same time, updates on weather, upcoming disasters and agriculture—seasonal calendars, and disease and pest control for instance—are related in real time through Nokia devices to commune-level hubs. Villages will finally receive these information via mobile phones, or during Community Development Group meetings organised by ActionAid International Vietnam.
Why is this project such a game-changer?
1. More data, more insights
Mobile-based data collection allows for a greater variety of data types and formats to be gathered, such as GPS location tags and images. With more information at hand, communities can better identify potential risks, and coordinate planning and implementation of disaster preparedness plans. Users can confirm data accuracy by checking entries in real time, and take action immediately.
Raising the plinth level of houses, strengthening embankments, as well as constructing a lookout tower are some of the ideas the communities have came up with to reduce the risks of future disasters.
2. Faster reporting
The Microsoft Data Gathering tool helps to eliminate manual tasks such as printing and posting paper forms, and entering paper-based data into computers. This saves valuable time and resources, so more energy can go to helping villages improve their disaster preparedness rather than being held up in administrative bottlenecks.
Additionally, electronic data means there is less worry about information being lost or damaged in transit. It is a truly time-saving and environmental-friendly approach to data collection.
3. Ideal for remote communities
In the past, it took three to five days to transmit information to communes and villages. Now, it can be done in real time. This is particularly beneficial for remote, poorer communities that are often the most vulnerable and least prepared to cope with disasters and lack access to information. Before this project, the Khmer ethnic communities we are working with, for example, lacked early warning systems or a proper disaster coordination mechanism.
Through the formation and strengthening of Village Disaster Management Committees, this project has also created opportunities for women to participate in community development initiatives and disaster risk reduction—the first time for many of them.
4. Huge potential for extensions
While the Microsoft Data Gathering tool is used for disaster preparedness and response for this project, farmers are already using it to get updates on prevailing market prices for agricultural products, helping them make more informed decisions and boosting their incomes. They also gain information on water levels and salinity conditions, which helps improve their agricultural practices.
Beyond this project, we see the potential for the Microsoft Data Gathering tool to be used in other ways, in any project where there is a need to collect and analyse data. For instance, it could be used to capture data on the number of children in school for education projects, or to map and analyse access to health care and other public services.
The use of the Microsoft Data Gathering tool and mobile devices is making a real impact in the communities we serve in Vietnam. It is exciting to imagine the immense potential of mobile technology in supporting communities in multiple ways, from connecting rural farmers with local markets to enriching the classroom via interactive educational platforms. We look forward to continuing this partnership with Microsoft and helping communities to create even more opportunities through mobile technology.