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Friday, 19 June 2009 10:24

Mobile networks to support massive upgrade of Africa's weather monitoring

Mobile cell sites are ideal locations for weather monitoring: they can provide physical infrastructure, power and connectivity. Ericsson and mobile carriers plan to use them to increase Africa's weather monitoring stations from a mere 300 to over 5000, and Ericsson is looking to do the same thing in Asia Pacific.

The Global Humanitarian Forum and its president, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Ericsson, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), mobile telecommunications company Zain, and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, have launched the initiative, dubbed "Weather Info for All", in response to Africa's severe gap in weather information highlighted at the Forum's first annual event.

The 5,000 weather stations will be installed at new and existing mobile network sites throughout the continent over coming years, a move the backers say will save lives and bring increased economic opportunity to tens of millions of people by providing a massive increase in crucial information to predict and manage climate shocks.

Africa's current weather monitoring network is presently only one eighth of the WMO minimum recommended standard, and less than 200 of its 300 weather stations meet WMO observation requirements, compared to several thousand in each of Europe, North America, and parts of Asia.

However, an Ericsson spokesman said: "More accurate weather information is needed in various areas including the Pacific, Latin America, and Asia. After the African continent, island states in the Pacific will be considered, but nothing specific has been finalised at this stage."

According to Ericsson thee move represents "An innovative public-private partnership on a unique scale." It will tap Ericsson's relationships with African operators such as Zain, who will host the weather equipment at mobile network sites being rolled out across Africa. However, Ericsson notes that "Achieving the 5,000 target would require additional operator commitment and external financing."

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"Weather Info for All" was launched 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. By bringing together the expertise and resources of different public and private actors, this project may help to save lives and improve the livelihoods of communities in Africa living on the frontlines of climate change."

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 that has been relied on for centuries, creating a great need for meteorological information.

A recent Global Humanitarian Forum report estimated that climate change is responsible for some 300,000 deaths each year and over $US100 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 percent as early as 2020.

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.

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