By creating a mechanism that will gather real-time Twitter and Facebook updates
during storms in flood-prone regions of the world, a four-member team of Israeli
computer programmers and environmental experts hopes to better prevent natural
While flooding may not be Israel’s biggest issue, when looking
at casualty numbers worldwide, “floods are the main issue that affect humanity,”
one of the team members, Ran Bushuhrian, an environmental business developer,
told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Bushuhrian and his colleagues
participated in a three-day event earlier this week in Tel Aviv called the
WaterHackathon, which occurred in conjunction with nine other nearly
simultaneous gatherings in Bangalore, Kampala, Lagos, Lima, London, Nairobi,
Toronto and Washington, DC.
Sponsored by the World Bank, the
WaterHackathon is a marathon of sorts that brings together software developers,
designers and water experts in attempt to “solve – ‘hack’ – real-world water
problems,” according to the program’s international website. Some such
challenges include providing access to safe and reliable drinking water,
flooding and drought solutions, irrigation and watershed management and
environmental pollution, the campaign says.
The World Bank considers
these issues extremely urgent, as 2.5 billion people across the globe live
without any sanitation and 887 million without access to safe water, Water-
Hackathon data explained.
Israel’s branch of the event was held at Tel
Aviv University’s Faculty of Engineering Software Building, under the guidance
of the StarTAU program, the university’s entrepreneurship center. Around 30-40
men and women, from students to professional – engineers, software programmers
and water experts – gathered together for the caucus, according to StarTAU
spokesman Yuri Gankin.
“Altogether they formulate a group and each can
contribute his own part,” Gankin told the Post
members even had the option of bringing sleeping bags to this marathon work
event, though in the end, none of them chose to, Gankin noted.
strategizing together in teams, the group members also were able to listen to
lectures from leading hi-tech entrepreneur Dr. Yossi Vardi and from Dr. Alex
Coman, a technology and business management expert, who regularly appears as a
commentator on shows like Laila Kalkali (Economic Night).
team out of five groups total, which turned out to be Bushuhrian and his
colleagues, will receive three-months worth of access to resources and mentoring
from IBM to actualize their solutions, while the second and third place teams
will receive two and one month respectively. The groups were judged by an expert
panel, including Coman, dean of TAU’s Exact Science faculty Prof. Yaron Oz,
former chairman of Mekorot water utility Buki Oren, senior manager at IBM Pnina
Vortman, Israel NewTech director Oded Distal, World Bank representative
Alexander McPhail, and Blue | Water Technologies vice president of research and
development Dr. Stela Diamant.
“So far what we have in hand [for flood
watch] are hydrological models that can predict according to rain forecasts, and
these cannot give us real-time information,” Bushuhrian told the Post
. “What we
have today that is not being used is all the available information – the people
on the ground that can SMS, tweet, use Facebook and announce each
During the WaterHackathon, Bushuhrian and his team members live
tracked people tweeting about a flood in Bangkok, to understand how the
information they were delivering on a real-time basis might be useful to
decision makers on the ground, he explained. Even in the most rural areas of
India, similarly, coverage of mobile phones is over 75 percent and could be a
critical tool in disaster prevention, according to Bushuhrian.
worked with computer programmer Eden Cohen, platform application engineer Igal
Muchnik and geographic information systems expert Ran Bitton on their
“One purpose of the project is to build an algorithm that can
sniff social networks and can aggregate information and percolate it in order to
have valuable data that decision makers can use,” he said.
If one village
located upstream on a river, for example, tweets about rain that has only just
started to fall, leaders might be able to use the information coming from that
area to prevent disaster from occurring 100-200 km. away downstream, Bushuhrian
explained. Meanwhile, if colored water measurement indicators were painted on
the sides of village buildings, residents could SMS the height of the rising
water levels to a free phone number.
Over the next three months,
Bushuhrian hopes that the group’s project will become a reality, and help
prevent flooding disasters in areas where access to broader technology and
infrastructure is minimal.
“We have limited resources and we have to
utilize them in the best way,” he said.