Implementation of a Flood Warning System in Rural Suriname

In May 2006, rural Suriname was hit by massive floods that left many people homeless and destroyed most of the food supplies. TU Delft students set up a project to raise awareness and help the people of Suriname find ways to deal with the dangers of flooding and reduce future risks.

Flood risks
Over the past thirty years, Suriname has never seen floods as massive as those that hit large parts of the country in spring 2006. Smaller floods, though, are rather common, but no one was aware of the devastation that more serious flooding could cause. Due to heavy rainfall, three rivers overflowed and around 22.000 people lost their homes last May. TU Delft students from Suriname quickly set up a project group and drew up an action plan to raise awareness amongst the inhabitants of the flooded areas.

Finding ways to prevent future flooding proved an impossible task, as the areas concerned are massive and 80 percent of the country is covered by rainforests and rivers. Natural hazards are simply inevitable. The main goal of the Living with Floods project, therefore, was to help the people of Suriname find ways of dealing with the danger of flooding and reducing the flood impact.

Safe areas
In order to better deal with future floods, a warning system is essential. But up until now, relevant data, such as water levels or amount of rainfall, was hard to find in Suriname. Evacuation plans and safe drinking water facilities were also non existent. Our research project focused on creating all of these potentially life saving facilities. We choose one of the areas hit hardest by the floods, the Boven-Suriname area. Involving locals was key in the entire project.

Practical use
Together with locals and Dutch and Surinam institutions, such as a local NGO’s and Unesco-IHE’s Institute for Water Education, we placed numerous staff gages, which will be read daily by locals who report the water level data to the radio chamber at a nearby airport. We also analyzed the river cross sections and communicated the critical water level, instructing communities to send out a warning if the water levels rise to critical height. We built several memorials at central locations to make people aware of the risks of flooding. Furthermore, we developed an evacuation plan and identified so-called safe areas for people to go to in case of floods. We also tested several systems for producing safe drinking water. Although our research only focused on a small area of rural Suriname, it can certainly be applied to similar areas elsewhere.  

In the near future, TU Delft MSc students will continue to work on the Suriname project. The warning systems need to be expanded and improved, for instance, and more research is required into the water flow data of the rivers concerned.

To learn more about our Implementation of a Flood Warning System in Rural Suriname, please contact the Watermanagement department.

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