Filed under: Development 2.0 Disaster response Social innovation

old painting

#DRR back in the day: Recovery efforts in Scotland during the Tay Bridge disaster in 1879

As the recent devastation wrought by flooding in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina has shown, social media has a vital role to play in spreading information during natural and human-made disasters.

Twitter is a great example of a platform that can quickly deliver vital information to a vast number of people.

So Igor Miskovski of the E-Technologies and Networks Center in Skopje and I decided to run a little experiment.

We conducted an initial analysis of tweets in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from 2011–2013 to find out what percentage were related to Disaster Risk Reduction (or what we call DRR in UN-speak).

There are an estimated 20,000 – 25,000 Twitter users in fYR Macedonia, of which approximately 15,000 can be identified through a number of online applications.

Analysis of DRR-related tweets provided some very interesting insights:

  • Macedonian Twitter users tweet most on Mondays and least on Saturdays, suggesting that tweeting is an activity people consider part of their working week.
  • Twitter activity increases during work hours from 08:00 till 16:00, reaching saturation from 16:00 till 18:00.
  • After 18:00 it starts to grow again, reaching a peak at 23:00. But even Twitter users need some rest: from 00:00 to 08:00 there is an exponential drop.
  • Most Twitter users are in the big city areas, with Skopje on the top.
  • There are also active users in Turkey (Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, Marmaris areas), as well as in the United States (Cleveland/Detroit areas).

The latter points to an interesting correlation: According to US Census figures, a large cluster of Americans of Macedonian descent live in the Midwest, particularly Detroit which has a population of roughly 10,000 Macedonian Americans.

The hazardous events mentioned most on Twitter during the analysis period were as follows:

  • Earthquakes: 495 tweets
  • Fires: 132
  • Air pollution/fog: 122
  • Floods: 104
  • Traffic accidents: 73
  • Diseases/viral infections:– 59

As well as identifying the weekly/hourly distribution of DRR-related tweets, we also identified the most used hashtags, the most active users, and the users that tweeted about different kinds of hazardous events.

A number of challenges still remain:

  • Geo-tagging of tweets (or lack thereof)
  • The use of different languages (Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, English to name a few)
  • Alphabets (e.g. “fire” could be tweeted as: #fire, #pozzar, #пожар, or another word in the languages of the ethnic minorities living in the country)
  • The low awareness in the Twitter community about DRR-related issues

We are currently developing a simple web-based application that will enable easier and more precise analysis of tweets including: the number of DRR-related tweets during a certain time period, the first DRR-related tweets relating to hazardous events, and the mapping of these tweets and related events.

It’s an important time to raise awareness through Twitter and other forms of social media about DRR activities.

Developing this technology and its accessibility could have great implications for the people who are most affected when disaster does strike.

By empowering them through social media, they can have the opportunity to report a disaster and get real-time information on how to stay safe.

Special thanks go out to Patrick Meier and Ingmar Weber for their inspiration, support, and guidance during this exercise.

We’d love to hear from you, so hop on Twitter and drop us a line:

@UNDPEurasia @UNDPMK @PopovskiVasko and @IgorMiskovski


* This post originally appeared on UNDP in fYR Macedonia’s blog