Residents and local governments along the Lower Mekong can now get flood alerts and drought-monitoring information through Facebook under a new partnership with the Mekong River Commission.

The first-ever partnership of its kind between the social network and the MRC aims to raise awareness among those in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam about the commission’s flood and drought-information systems and build train local officials to use online platforms.

“At Facebook, we always look for new ways to support development efforts in this region,” said Shanti Alexander, Asia-Pacific community affairs manager at Facebook, after the Aug. 31 launch.

“With a suite of tools that supports communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters and build resilience, we are pleased to partner with the MRC to keep millions of people in this region informed on possible floods and drought so that they are better prepared for a crisis.”

Direct economic losses from climate-related disasters have soared 250 percent in the past two decades according to the United Nations.

Between 1998 and 2017, Thailand was the worst hit country in the Mekong region, suffering losses estimated at US$52.4 billion.

The MRC estimates that while seasonal flooding brings diverse benefits to the region, the average annual cost of floods in the Lower Mekong Basin is $60-70 million.

Mekong River Commission – Joint Project on Flood and Drought Management1

Cambodia and Vietnam alone account for about two-thirds of the Mekong region’s total annual flood damage.

Recent MRC studies also show that drought events in the basin have increased in frequency and severity in recent decades and this trend is set to continue.

The basin is also vulnerable to additional climate change impacts that include a predicted mean temperature rise of about 0.8 degrees Celsius by 2030.

“We see the utmost importance of providing timely and reliable information on water levels to Mekong countries and communities exposed to flood and drought and an ever-changing climate so that they can take action in time to avoid or reduce their risk and prepare an effective response,” said Anoulak Kittikhoun, the MRC’s chief strategy and partnership officer.

The MRC has installed 22 hydrological stations along the main channel of the Mekong River in the lower basin to monitor and collect river water level and rainfall data, which feeds into its Mekong Flood and Drought Forecasting System.

The system provides the public and governments with data on daily river water levels, including flood alerts and drought forecasting, throughout the year.

The system will be explained through a 3D-animated video, which will be shared on Facebook’s platform to reach communities across the region.

Facebook will also train officials from the four MRC member countries on how to use digital tools to communicate effectively and quickly during and after a disaster.

A version of this story originally appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.