New research project: Studying Ghana’s digital emergency preparedness
Alena Thiel has received the Horizon Europe’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral fellowship for her project, MUNDI. During the next two years she will investigate the use of digital innovations for the predictive anticipation, real-time analysis, and early intervention in multiple and intersecting threats to human security in Ghana.
Modern disaster governance relies on technologies that can help governments predict disasters so that they can respond accordingly. This means that governments’ success or failure to use technologies is of great importance for the people and businesses affected by them. This is why post doc Alena Thiel will dedicate the next two years to investigate the use of digital innovations for the predictive anticipation, real-time analysis, and early intervention in multiple and intersecting threats to human security.
“Disaster Risk Reduction is more pressing than ever. The project, MUNDI, will investigate data collection and analysis that allow Ghanaian government institutions to respond to unfolding disasters in timely and targeted manner. Disaster Risk Reduction is essentially about coordinating information and resource flows. For example, in the case of flooding, apart from information on weather patterns and geographical conditions, demographic factors such as the number of children and pregnant women in an affected area are important. I am interested in how public agencies combine data from various sources, ranging from satellite-based emergency mapping to the local observation of sentinel species that indicate imminent environmental changes,” says Alena Thiel, who is the Principal Investigator of the research project, MUNDI, which is funded by Horizon Europe’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Postdoctoral fellowship programme.
Alena Thiel will study the multi-sectoral emergency preparedness and response effort in Ghana. Like many other sub-Saharan African countries, Ghana is prone to a variety of hazards like floods, drought/famine, fires, and earthquakes. Floods especially are a big challenge. A study by UNESCO found that 37% of Ghana’s coastline had eroded between 2005 and 2017. This makes the Ghanaians, who live close to the sea, very vulnerable. In 2015, for example, a flood led to an explosion of a petrol station resulting in the loss of over 150 lives and millions worth of property. In 2021, around 3,000 people were made homeless overnight due to a high tide.
”Ghana is among the leading African nations in the area of public sector digitalisation. The country follows a national policy agenda committed to transitioning into a knowledge-based society. However, as elsewhere in the world, the digital labour supporting such policy remains largely invisible. MUNDI will follow state officials in their day-to-day interactions with digital infrastructure, especially in moments that mobilize data flows between agencies,” says Alena Thiel.
MUNDI is essentially an ethnographic study of data practices in disaster risk reduction in Ghana. The central aims are to describe the base processes and material foundations of real-time datafication in an emerging data system and to develop new theory on evidence-production under conditions of radical uncertainty. Alena Thiel says that in order to do so, she will engage with Ghanaian stakeholders throughout the project to facilitate discussions on the harmonisation of data practices across scales and institutions.
“Data experts in Ghana often need to deal with fragmented population data, for example not all people have birth certificates or national ID cards. They may never appear in any official register. Thus, planners need to be creative in order to get the knowledge and the data to intervene. So the project is also about foregrounding the skills of Ghanaian data experts and showing that countries in the global south can also teach us about creative problem solving in the face of unpredictable effects of climate change.”
Jari Kickbusch, phone 7218 5304, email firstname.lastname@example.org