Partnership story

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Mobile Weather Alerts: Enabling Access to Weather and Climate Services in Africa

Summary

By: The World Meteorlogical Organization and Ericsson

A new partnership between the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations with a global mandate to coordinate the exchange of weather and climate information, and Ericsson, a world-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and related services to mobile and fixed network operators globally aims to fill gaps in national ground-level weather observation systems and improve the availability of reliable weather information.

Every year weather and climate-related disasters cause over 300,000 deaths, seriously affecting over 325 million people, and lead to economic losses in the range of US$125 billion. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers almost 25 percent of these losses and is at the most immediate risk of drought and floods. At the same time, there are more than 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally. The annual growth rate of mobile subscribers in Africa is staggering and is expected to double in coming years. In 2008, the growth rate was over 40 percent, with more than 80 million new subscribers added. In the first half of 2009, an additional 46 million were added.

Climate change is dramatically altering weather patterns and further threatening people’s lives and livelihoods. In Africa, the situation is compounded by limited access to accurate climate and weather information. As a result, the poorest and most vulnerable communities are more at risk to weather related natural hazards such as extreme rainfall, droughts and flooding. This increases exposure to famine, loss of lives and livelihoods, vector-borne diseases and forced migration.

Increased mobile network connectivity provides a wide range of benefits to people in emerging markets and examples of cost savings and efficiency gains are well documented. Increased penetration has been proven to boost economic activity and recent studies show that an increase in mobile penetration can lead to a 1.2 percent increase in the annual growth rate in GDP.

Given the recent technological and analytical advances in global climate and severe weather prediction and warning systems, the potential of the combination of mobile technologies to strengthen weather forecast systems and access to weather and climate information is being increasingly recognized. The use of mobile phones to distribute weather information can help with storm warnings and disaster prevention, but also enhance economic opportunities for tens of millions of people, with relevant information provided for fisheries, agriculture and small business development.

In addition, cellular towers can be used for the expansion of existing weather observation networks. These are secure sites with reliable power and communication facilities. National Meteorological Services are exploring the benefits of these sites for the installation of Automatic Weather Stations to assist National Meteorological Services to make more accurate forecasts.

A key goal of the initiative is to couple the meteorological expertise that exists within the National Meteorological Services, national government institutions which are mandated to provide weather forecasts and climate information, with the telecommunications global footprint to leverage the weather data observations and efficiently distribute vital and local weather information to individuals and communities. The engagement of the private sector is seen as critical to reaching this goal. Mobile communications in particular can empower individuals and communities as well as disaster management, agricultural, health and risk institutions and ministries in decentralized environments. This will streamline data capture, and information and communication in the field of weather and climate.

As a leading telecom provider, Ericsson uses its expertise to direct the technology stream of the initiative, and to explore the use of mobile communications to deliver weather information to rural communities. The WMO provides the technical advice and support to the National Meteorological Services. This will help to improve access to and delivery of emergency information and general and individualized forecast services to individuals and organizations in even the most remote areas. It will also help the planning of government ministries and risk institutions to be better prepared for natural disasters.

Pilot project with fishermen

During a pilot project in Uganda, weather forecasts and warnings will be sent to fishermen on Lake Victoria by SMS text message. Every year, around 5,000 fishermen die on the lake as they face sudden winds and high waves that cause boats to capsize. By providing weather information and warnings to the fishermen, they will be able to make informed decisions about when and where to fish and whether to go out onto the lake or seek shelter in safe areas. This will not only help to save many lives, but also enhance the livelihoods of the communities around the lake, as many fishermen are the sole providers for large families.

In the long run, it will be rolled out to other communities around the lake, as well as farming communities who also heavily depend on weather information and warnings.

The partnership between Ericsson, the WMO and National Meteorological Services in East Africa was formed in 2009 to demonstrate how Ericsson’s core technology – mobile communication – might best be utilized to enhance access to and delivery of weather and climate services in support of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

For more information, please contact Corinna Schermer, World Meteorlogical Organization.