A team of researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh is using digital technology to help prevent landslides in Latin America.
In the foothills of the Andes, people living in small hillside settlements have been enrolled as community researchers to spot landslide warning signs.
After it rains, locals emerge from their homes with the mobile phones and snap photos in three distinct time periods: just after the rain stops, a few hours after and 24 hours after. The photos are uploaded to a WhatsApp group where experts from Heriot-Watt and the University of Colombia assess specific points and angles to see how the land has reacted to the downpour.
This simple process means that if there is any risk of a landslide, appropriate action can be taken without creating panic.
The combination of local knowledge from the community who live in the settlements and the academic knowledge from the civil engineers at the universities is what makes this dialogic approach successful.
This collaboration has empowered the communities in the hillside settlement, as they have also learned how to be proactive in lessening the threat posed by heavy rain by installing drainage and guttering to divert rainwater away from the land.
The team at Heriot-Watt are confident that similar initiatives could work in other areas and they plan to introduce a dedicated app for gathering data. The approach has the potential to help similar communities across the world.