Earth Observation Tools to Build Disaster Management Capacity in Africa

  • 2016/12/02     Harare, Zimbabwe

    Image: istock/uschools

    Image: istock/uschools

    Reporting by Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy

    According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 40 million people require food assistance due to droughts in the southern Africa region. Twenty-three out of this 40 million are in need of immediate help. In the driest year in decades facing the region, Zimbabwe is one of the worst-hit countries.

    During a training course on the “Use of Satellite Products for Drought Monitoring and Agricultural Meteorology Applications”, UNU-FLORES researcher Ana Andreu from the Systems and Flux Analysis Considering Global Change Unit presented the project entitled “Remote Sensing of Water Use and Water Stress in African Savanna Ecosystem from Local to Regional Scale: Implications for Land Productivity” under the TIGER initiative. Organised by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the training course that took place 24–28 October 2016 in Harare was a timely intervention.

    Directed at experts in agrometeorology in the National Meteorological Services and Ministries of Agriculture of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Republic of South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the training in the Zimbabwean capital aimed to provide information on appropriate weather and climate technologies to equip decision-making in food security – at national and smallholder farmer levels – in southern African countries. Strengthening local technical capacity helps authorities improve disaster preparedness and management.

    The Meteorological Service Department of Zimbabwe, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), and other UN agencies and institutions such as FAO, the European Union – Joint Research Centre, and the Spanish Meteorological Agency (AEMET) also joined the training.

    Image: Training Course on the “Use of Satellite Products for Drought Monitoring and Agricultural Meteorology Applications”

    Image: Training Course on the “Use of Satellite Products for Drought Monitoring and Agricultural Meteorology Applications”

    The TIGER initiative, launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2002, promotes the use of Earth Observation (EO) data to improve Integrated Water Resources Management in Africa, while strengthening the scientific collaboration between African and European partners. As the European lead of the project under the TIGER Initiative, Andreu also introduced the Water Observation Information System (WOIS) tool and ESA Sentinel 1 & 2 satellites.

    “Earth Observation images show the world through a wide-enough frame so that complete large-scale phenomena can be observed to an accuracy and entirety it would take an army of ground-level observers to match.”

    – European Space Agency

    EO data obtained through the various sensors and tools helps monitor the Earth’s environment. In the longer run, it allows for a reliable assessment of the impact of environmental phenomena or human activity. In this case, the likely extent of drought can be monitored and the information derived used as early warning for food security and disaster management.

    One specific objective was building capacity of the National Meteorological and Agricultural Services so that they are able to provide more and better products and services in drought monitoring and management and in agricultural meteorology, based on the use of remote sensing data. Products such as seasonal forecasts and crop models, as well as early warning systems, help increase capacity in managing disasters.

    The expansion of the use of weather forecasting tools from the TIGER initiative among African agrometeorologists and water managers would help develop their capacity in relation to vegetation status monitoring, soil moisture, rainfall estimations, sand and dust warnings, radiative balance, and land use, to improve agricultural advisories and food security procedures.