How can participatory monitoring help us better understand rainfall?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

When trying to adapt and live with largely unpredictable natural phenomena and hazards, having clear, reliable, and timely information makes for a better prepared community. But what is our role as citizens in generating this information? In this blog you will learn how community members in the Rímac River Basin, near Lima, Peru, collaborate with national authorities to generate more complete and detailed information on precipitation.

Citizen science is a form of collaboration where the public actively participates in scientific research, achieving a joint production of knowledge. Volunteers perform specific research tasks that seek to address problems in their environment.

There are several successful examples of how citizen science can generate valid and quality results, and even unexpected lessons. This approach has been applied to various areas such as sea and space observation, monitoring of birds, dolphins and other species, and even to make comparative analysis of water quality. Likewise we believe that communities hold the best knowledge on how to protect themselves from floods and landslides. 

Why measure the rain?

Much of what we know about the behaviour of rain and landslides is empirical knowledge. People who live in risk prone areas and have repeatedly experienced the phenomena have valuable information. However, it is necessary to support this empirical information with data. Measuring the rain allows us to go from being able to say that “in the high part of the basin it rained differently from the lower part” to establishing that “there was a difference of 4 mm between the rainfall registered by the rain gauges in the high part and those in the lower part”. 

This is important because it provides technical agencies, meteorological institutions, and communities with a common language. Undoubtedly, participatory rain monitoring activities can lead to collaboration with benefits for all parties. An example of this is the experience of the Participatory Rain Monitoring Network in the Rímac River Basin (MOP Rímac Network).

Currently, there are few historical records of rainfall, water and floods in the Rimac River basin that have sufficient spatial and temporal accuracy. Information of this type is important to better understand hazards, and allowing people to prepare to face them. For example, this information can contribute to better understanding the process of how and why rainfall ends up activating a ravine with landslides and floods. Understanding this relationship is essential and helps make the implementation of existing Early Warning Systems (EWS) more efficient. Thus, MOP Rímac Network was created with the objective of generating an information network that complements the official data.

This network, promoted by Practical Action, is committed to citizen science as a strategy for rain monitoring in several districts of the Rímac River basin. The MOP Rímac Network works with volunteers who live near the basin and have been trained to measure rainfall using basic rain gauges. It seeks to contribute to the focused surveillance that the Peruvian National Service of Meteorology and Hydrology (SENAMHI) conducts to strengthen the functioning of the Rímac EWS.

For the rainy season 2018-2019, the MOP Rímac Network had 25 community members systematically reporting data with the use of handmade, manual rain gauges from different points of the basin in the districts of Ate, Chaclacayo, Lurigancho-Chosica, Santa Eulalia and San Mateo. The information collected by this network was shared and contrasted with the official sources of SENAMHI, the Korea International Cooperation Agency’s (KOICA) monitoring network, and the low-cost monitoring network of Practical Action’s stations.

Unexpected results

On February 25, 2019, the MOP Rímac Network registered a gully activation event considered atypical in Chaclacayo as it occurred during the morning and without preceding days of rain. This event was registered by 3 volunteers from the participatory monitoring network located in the Los Cóndores ravine with measurements of: 20, 20.5 and 19.5 mm of accumulated rainfall before noon. Below we present a comparative map of how this event was registered by the official stations and the MOP Rímac Network.

When comparing both maps (the left being the records from official stations and the right those of the MOP Rímac Network volunteers), we clearly notice how participatory measurements complement official stations, capturing local events that might otherwise go unnoticed. Hence, thanks to the information of the MOP Rímac Network we can have a more complete and detailed understanding of the behaviour of rainfall in a particular area.

It should be noted that SENAMHI trained the MOP Rímac Network prior to the start of the 2019-2020 season, as part of joint actions for the implementation of the Rimac EWS. This nexus allows citizens to approach authorities and institutions and have an active role in their environment and in building community resilience. The MOP Rímac Network demonstrates how citizen science allows the participation of people at risk, based on their own dynamics, needs and strengths, to deal with hazards such as floods and landslides.

This blog was originally published on our Latin American Flood Resilience Portal on 10 February 2020. Here you can read the original “Capturando información valiosa” in Spanish.

If you speak Spanish you can learn more about the results of the MOP Rímac Network in this poster presented at the first Peruvian Meteorological Congress.

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