Floodwaters up to 30-feet-high swept through Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province last Friday, destroying dozens of homes and killing at least five people. Unfortunately, experts warn the nation’s monsoon season is far from over, and will likely worsen in the years ahead due to climate change.
However, locals now have access to a potentially vital new tool to help communicate, coordinate, and prepare against an area increasingly beset by dire natural disasters—and it’s a first for one of the world’s most popular messaging apps.
Today, disaster relief management nonprofit Yayasan Peta Bencana announced the debut of BencanaBot, a “Humanitarian WhatsApp Chatbot.” Billed as the first of its kind, BecanaBot’s AI-assisted chat features can now guide locals through the process of submitting disaster reports that are then mapped in real-time on the free, open source platform, PetaBencana.id. There, anyone in need can view and share updates to coordinate decisions regarding safety and responses via collaborative evidence verified by government agencies.
“With over 80 million active users of WhatsApp in Indonesia, the launch of BencanaBot on WhatsApp represents a new milestone in enabling residents all across the archipelago to participate in, and benefit from, this free disaster information sharing system,” Nashin Mahtani, director of Yayasan Peta Bencana, said in a statement.
Going forward, anyone in Indonesia can now anonymously share disaster information via WhatsApp (+628584-BENCANA), Twitter (@petabencana), Facebook Messenger (@petabencana), and Telegram (@bencanabot). WhatsApp’s default end-to-end encryption also ensures an added layer of privacy for its users, although like all messaging platforms, it is likely not without its faults.
Using such an exhaustive program may sound intimidating to some, but BencanaBot’s creators specifically designed the service to be intuitive and easy-to-understand for underfunded communities in Indonesia. In particular, the platform is designed to be “data-light,” meaning it works seamlessly through the existing instant messaging, social media, and SMS-based communications its users already know, without requiring a lot of device data usage.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), access to local and timely information remains one of the greatest hurdles for populations adapting to climate change’s rapidly multiplying existential threats. The rise of tools like BencanaBot are crucial for societal adaptation to these issues, and can strengthen communities’ resilience in the face of some of the planet’s most difficult ongoing climate challenges.