22 June 2009

Weather info for all: Mobile communications to revolutionize African weather monitoring

The Global Humanitarian Forum and its President, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, together with Ericsson, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), mobile telecommunications company Zain, and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, today announced a major initiative, dubbed "Weather Info for All", to radically improve Africa's weather monitoring network in the face of the growing impact of climate change. The partnership will deploy up to 5,000 automatic weather stations in mobile network sites accross Africa, where less than 300 are reporting today.

Approximately 70 percent of Africans rely on farming for their livelihood, or close to 700 million people, and over 95 percent of Africa's agriculture depends on rainfall. Changing weather patterns due to climate change render obsolete traditional knowledge relating to agriculture otherwise reliable for centuries, creating a great need for meteorological information. This partnership will also increase information via mobile phones to users and communities, including remote farmers and fishermen.

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the WMO said: "For food production, almost every decision is linked to weather, climate and water parameters. We see the Weather Info for All initiative as a major pan-African effort to empower our 188 Members to provide enhanced weather information and services".

First 19 stations deployed more than double Lake Victoria region weather monitoring, where 5,000 people die every due to storms and accidents. The initiative will have an impact far beyond agriculture and disaster preparation as it also includes assistance to national meteorological services in training and technical capacities. Better weather information will also make possible the development of services, such as microinsurance, which can be based on weather data indexes, such as rainfall. The initiative will also increase the volume of information useful for scientists, as well as for the water, transport and energy industries.

While the weather information gap is particularly acute in Africa, the initiative would be open to later expansion into other affected regions.

A further partner in the initiative is Columbia University's Earth Institute, headed by Jeffrey Sachs. To help with distribution to some of the most vulnerable and poorest parts of Africa and in partnership with the Earth Institute, automatic weather stations will also be installed in Millennium Villages - rural development projects spread throughout 10 countries and focused on achieving the Millennium Development Goals. By leveraging the expertise of Earth Institute scientists on climatology, agriculture, and health, the project hopes to identify key areas where there can be an immediate impact contributing a sizable knowledge bank to the effort.

"The Earth Institute is a proud partner in this highly innovative program," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the institute. "Once the switch is turned on, a flow of extensive weather data will become available throughout Africa, with benefits extending from the national policy makers to the smallholder farmers. The Millennium Villages is a perfect launch site for the practical and timely application of weather data to bolster resilience and sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa."

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Also: Weathering storms with telecoms

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