June 25, 2009

Using Mobile Telecommunications to Monitor Africa's Weather

According to a press release dated June 18, 2009, "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...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." Speaking at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, Switzerland, Mr. Annan said, "The world's poorest are also the world's most vulnerable when it comes to the impact of climate change, and the least equipped to deal with its consequences. Today you find cell phone towers in almost every part of Africa. We have never been able to establish weather monitoring on that scale, until now." (Photo courtesy of the Global Humanitarian Forum)

Richard Black, an environment correspondent for BBC News wrote, "The project aims to deploy 5,000 automatic weather stations across the continent mounted on phone masts. They will gather data on aspects of weather such as rainfall and wind, and send it to national weather agencies."

A Global Humanitarian Forum report claims that climate change "is responsible for some 300,000 deaths each year and over 100 billion US dollars worth of economic losses, mainly because of shocks to health and agricultural productivity. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for close to a quarter of these losses, and is the region at the most immediate risk of droughts and floods. Agricultural yields in some areas are expected to fall by 50% as early as 2020."

Global Humanitarian Forum's press release further says, "Mobile networks provide the necessary connectivity, power and security to sustain the weather equipment. Through its Mobile Innovation Center in Africa, Ericsson will also develop mobile applications to help communicate weather information developed by national meteorologicaland hydrological services (NMHSs) via mobile phones. Mobile operators will maintain the automatic weather stations and assist in the transmission of the data to national met services. The initial deployment, already begun in Zain networks, focuses on the area around Lake Victoria in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The first 19 stations installed will double the weather monitoring capacity of the Lake region."

"Approximately 70% of Africans rely on farming for their livelihood, or close to 700 million people, and over 95% 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." Here is a video about the "Weather Info for All" program:

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