Mobile Communications to Revolutionise African Weather Monitoring

Ericsson working to improve Africa’s weather monitoring network

The Global Humanitarian Forum and its President, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, together with Ericsson and  the World Meteorological Organisation (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.

A recent Global Humanitarian Forum report estimated that climate change is responsible for some 300,000 deaths each year and over USD 100 billion 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.

The Global Humanitarian Forum initiated this collaboration in response to Africa’s severe gap in weather information highlighted at the Forum’s first annual event. The members of the initiative will deploy up to 5,000 new automatic weather observation stations across Africa, intending to provide a massive increase in crucial information to predict and manage climate shocks.

Africa has a network eight times below the WMO minimum recommended standard, and less than 200 weather stations that meet WMO observation requirements, compared to several thousand each in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. The 5,000 weather stations will be installed at new and existing mobile network sites throughout the continent over coming years, in what promises to save lives and bring increased economic opportunity to tens of millions of people.

The launch was held at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, where Kofi 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.”

Also present at the launch, Carl-Henric Svanberg, President and CEO of Ericsson, said: “This initiative presents a unique opportunity to simultaneously help mitigate the impact of climate change for those most affected, and to strengthen weather networks and systems across the continent.”

Mobile networks provide the necessary connectivity, power and security to sustain the weather equipment. 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.

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

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Mobile Communications to Revolutionise African Weather Monitoring