Governments, local communities and farmers need better weather data, says top funder as part of drive to get planet connected to internet by 2020
By Ed King
Africa urgently needs 4,000 to 5,000 weather stations so countries can track and understand changes to the world’s climate, according to the World Bank.
Thin data flow and poor internet penetration leave many communities flying blind in the face of extreme conditions such as drought or heavy rains, it warns in a report.
“The lives of the majority of the world’s people remain largely untouched by the digital revolution. Only around 15% can afford access to broadband internet,” it says.
The benefits of investing in better weather systems could be anywhere between $4-36 billion according to the 2016 ‘Digital Dividends’ study.
While some development projects use mobile phone networks to share information, an estimated 2 billion have no access to mobiles, while 60% of the world’s population has no internet.
The report cites a pilot project in Colombia which merged weather forecasts with historical data on climate and harvests, allowing farmers to make decisions on optimal planting times for rice crops.
“In an early application, the model correctly foresaw that crops would fail due to drought and advised farmers not to waste time and money on planting,” says the Bank.
Better weather services linked to early warning systems have been credited with a reduction in deaths from tropical storms in the Philippines, which is hit by around 20 typhoons a year.
Radar and satellites can warn residents in coastal towns 48 hours in advance of storm surges ranging from 2-5 metres, and potentially devastating rainfalls.
In Indonesia, citizens of flood-prone capital Jakarta used the OpenStreetMaps tool to digitally map the location of water, transport and power stations.
“InaSAFE, an open-source software program, was then used to analyze potential impacts of floods, and helped in the response to the 2013 and 2014 floods,” write the authors.
Farmers across Africa are suffering from one of the continent’s worth drought on record, the results of the cyclical El Nino phenomenon exacerbated, say experts, by climate change.
The US has pledged $97m of aid to Ethiopia, where 11 million people are at risk of famine. South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe also report acute water shortages.