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Deadly floods have been submerging towns and cities across the globe, washing away people’s livelihoods and raising questions about why there are still so many people dying from catastrophic floods in 2021.
Even in the Valley of the Sun, phones buzz with flash flood warnings as many roads and parks sit under feet of water during a heavy monsoon storm.
Floods are the most common, destructive and deadly form of natural disaster, and they can occur anywhere rain falls — in other words, virtually everywhere. And they’re predicted to significantly increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.
The urgency of the flood crisis was highlighted on the front cover of the August 2021 edition of Nature, featuring research from Beth Tellman, Arizona State University alumna and co-founder of award-winning startup Cloud to Street.
Tellman and her colleagues’ research, which was also featured in media outlets such as the BBC and TIME Magazine, showed that over a quarter of a billion people were directly affected by floods globally. Additionally, the proportion of the population living in flood-prone areas grew by nearly 25% from 2000 to 2015. Their analysis projects that climate change will leave a greater percentage of the populations of at least 57 countries vulnerable to flooding by 2030.
Presently, organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency rely on maps modeled off available data from the ground, such as elevation, rainfall, sensors, etc. But ground data takes a significant amount of time to gather and record, and it has limitations that prevent it from being a reliable tool for predicting and reacting to floods. It is clear that there is a need for real-time, on-demand and, most importantly, highly accessible flood data.
To fulfill this need, Tellman and Cloud to Street co-founder Bessie Schwarz have developed a way to help save thousands of lives by providing crucial flood data via satellite, allowing governments and organizations to synthesize action plans far in advance. This will allow them to rapidly and safely relocate people who are in areas vulnerable to severe flooding that may not be predicted in time with traditional methods.
Cloud to Street was awarded for its advancement in flood mapping technology at the 2020 WE Empower UN SDG Challenge, a showcase of female entrepreneurs from all over the world who are committed to advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Cloud to Street leverages satellites, AI and crowdsourced intelligence on the ground to monitor flood activity in near real-time. Cloud to Street’s website hosts The Global Flood Database, containing the data from Tellman’s research that offers a comprehensive view of flood exposure around the world, available free and accessible to everyone.
“Using satellite data of floods with improved resolution will help policymakers understand where flood impacts are changing and how best to adapt,“ said Tellman, who graduated from ASU with a PhD in geographical sciences in 2019. “The Global Flood Database can improve the accuracy of global and local flood models and vulnerability assessments, increase the efficacy of adaptation measures and deepen our understanding of how climate, land-cover change and floods interact.”
In response to the win, Schwarz said this is personal to both her and Tellman.
“We’ve seen time and time again that those who are hit hardest by these crises are the most vulnerable populations, and this means women and girls. Cloud to Street was started by two women, over half our team are women, and we collaborate daily with women around the world who work on the ground to help us gather our data.”
Research shows that as much as $12 trillion to $28 trillion could be added to the global economy by 2025 if all countries bridged the gender gap, demonstrating just how crucial female entrepreneurs are to the creation of global wealth. The mission of the WE Empower is to help bridge that gap by uplifting female entrepreneurs via funding, resources, training, networking opportunities and more.
“Beth and Bessie are terrific examples of the innovative and integrated entrepreneurial ventures WE Empower awardees are leading, focused on solving the world’s big problems,” said Amanda Ellis, former UN ambassador and senior director for global partnerships at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, which co-leads WE Empower with a coalition of over 70 global partners. “Recent research reveals women leaders in business and legislative roles are more likely to pay attention to both sustainability and equity issues.”
The Global Futures Laboratory took on the initiative because of the shared value of looking beyond sustainability science to delve into creating a future that emphasizes equity, justice and inclusion.
Founding benefactor of the laboratory Julie Ann Wrigley serves as co-chair and high-level judge of the challenge.
“The challenge honors the most amazing women who are supporting the 17 UN SDGs through entrepreneurship for purpose as a core value,” Wrigley said. “Bessie Schwarz, Beth Tellman and their work with Cloud to Street will help save thousands of lives by providing much needed insight for governments and organizations to mitigate the casualties and damages due to deadly floods. Their commitment to promoting the SDGs through valuable research and uplifting women and girls through entrepreneurial spirit embodies what this challenge is all about.”