Mobile phone data was critical to understanding the impact of the natural disaster in Mocoa in 2017

Oct 14, 2021

On October 5th, Cepei and Telefónica Tech presented at the United Nations World Data Forum the data story “Reconstruyendo Mocoa”: A research developed in the framework of their partnership, showcasing how mobile phone data is very useful when understanding the impacts of a natural disaster, such as the one which occurred in Mocoa, Colombia, between March and April 2017.


Context and objective

In a TED-like talk, Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, Head of the Big Data for Social Good program at Telefónica Tech, and Philipp Schönrock, Director of Cepei, shared their perspectives on the massive production of data and the use of non-traditional sources for the benefit of people, the planet and the 2030 Agenda.

“We need multi-stakeholder partnerships to close data gaps. We are on the right track, but we still have a long way to go. It’s time to harness the power of data,” Schönrock emphasized. 

According to the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Latin America and the Caribbean is the second most disaster-prone region in the world. In the last 20 years, more than 1,200 disasters have left more than 152 million victims.

The Mocoa tragedy had negative repercussions in rural and urban areas. It affected the municipality’s electricity and water services, as well as its infrastructure and access roads. And in relation to sustainable development, the disaster had an impact on 9 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).




According to the research and mobile phone data analyzed by both organizations during and after the event, the impact on the SDGs in the Colombian municipality, focused mainly on: 

SDG 1 – End Poverty: The livelihoods of the affected population were negatively impacted, even pushed into poverty. 

SDG 2 – Zero hunger: The avalanche destroyed the market and all access routes for food supply during the emergency.

SDG 3 – Health and well-being: Life loss and injuries, as well as the unhealthy environment could lead to contagions or infections.

SDG 6 and 7 – Clean water and sanitation, and affordable and clean energy: Suspension of utilities and facilities such as water and electricity. 

SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth: Total or partial stoppage of productive activities involving job losses.

SDGs 9 and 11 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and Sustainable Cities and Communities: The destruction of housing, roads and public spaces. 



Highlights of the interventions 

The session emphasized on the lessons learned by Cepei and Telefónica Tech, and their purpose to strengthen the data ecosystems of Latin American and Caribbean countries to monitor SDGs progress, an objective they have been working on over the last five years. They also shared some final considerations:


Mobile data: allowed to identify mobility patterns of the population within the municipality, migration destinations of people during four weeks and comparative displacement between the first and last week of the month to identify if the population would return to Mocoa.  


Mobile data characteristics: a) anonymization and data quality, b) High security and privacy, c) automated flow for 24/7 collection, d) wide population coverage, e) high quality data. 


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