Weather Prediction Technology
By 2020, 8.5 billion people will reside in developing countries. This reality dictates food security as a critical component of agricultural planning to support this burgeoning population.

With nearly 100 countries lacking early warning systems for weather patterns, the developing world cannot protect crop yields to feed a growing world. While increased food production is an important part of the puzzle, improved food security measures are the missing link.

India’s AgriMet Department of the Indian Meteorological Department is helping to solve this problem by sharing weather prediction technology and satellite data with Bhutan and seven other developing countries including Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Moldova, Dominica, Peru, Colombia and Burkina Faso.

Within India’s system, weather advisories are sent via text and voice messages to registered farmers. Registration is free and participating farmers have reported increased income. Indian scientists also plan to assist other countries in developing their own models for weather forecasting.

This comes on the heels of a warning from the World Meteorological Organization in March 2016 on World Meteorological Day. The initiative titled, “Hotter, drier, wetter. Face the Future,” recognizes 2015 as the hottest year on record and warning that these trends will continue for the next 50 years making weather prediction technology critical in the developing world.

Droughts, flooding, cyclones and heavy rain hit developing countries harder due to lack of preparation and time to evacuate. The effects of weather events are often cumulative in poor populations, making bad situations worse each time a new event occurs.

Global partnerships in weather prediction are a cost-effective way to address weather forecasting but are difficult to manage when a weather event threatens a smaller region. Global systems can also be more difficult for small, poor countries to access due to issues such as slow internet connections.

This makes regional partnerships for weather events a logical next step in forecasting due to closer proximity and easier methods of accessing a weather warning.

The goal for Bhutan and other developing countries is the implementation of long-range weather prediction technology and use of cost-effective toolkits such as rain gauges and measuring tools for soil moisture. While India will provide training and skills in this project, countries such as Canada and Norway will assist with grant funding to set up the weather station.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr

New Story
Hurricane Matthew killed 1,000 people and left 60,000 suddenly homeless. The New York Times reports that in one Haitian city alone, 80 percent of buildings were desolated. In the face of the worst natural disaster since the 2010 earthquake, one has to wonder if there is anything positive to be found among the pain in this devastated country. That’s where New Story comes in. New Story is a non-profit that has built 211 homes in Haiti, all of which survived Hurricane Matthew.

Every single house stood resistant to the category four storm. CEO Brett Hagler updated supporters the day after the hurricane saying, “People […] were bringing in other folks from the tents to take refuge in the homes last night during the hurricane, which is amazing and a testament to the durability of these homes.”

Hypepotamus reports that New Story was founded in 2014 on a mission to build homes for Haitian people in need. Hagler and Mike Arrieta compiled a strong Atlanta based team, successful in leveraging technology for social good as they built two new homes within their first three months of existence. Hagler explains, “We are trying to solve two problems — life-threatening homelessness and the status quo of traditional charity.”

The process begins with the recognition that homes are the foundation: without a stable place to live, families cannot focus on education, income or set hopeful goals for the future. The next step is to work with locals.

Every economy New Story interacts with is stimulated by the process through partnering with nonprofits and utilizing resources already present in the countries where they are building. Their website states, “through our partners, we learn in months what it would take years to understand if we tried to enter new communities independently.”

The keyword there is “communities.” Instead of focusing only on individual homes, this organization builds entire communities so as to form strong and lasting places for people to live. They believe a home is more than four walls and are committed to gathering data to ensure that the next is even better than the last.

They challenge the status quo of traditional charity by proving that 100 percent of their donations go toward building homes. Each home costs only $6,000 to build and donors can start a crowdsourcing fund to raise every dollar, or they can give as little as the amount of cash in their pocket.

No matter how much money a donor gives, every single one is connected through video with the exact family whose house they helped to build. This transparency gives a visual representation of that which is abstract for donations to so many other nonprofits. “Now going forward there’s obviously a lot of recovery to do […] and we think this hurricane just punctuates our belief that everyone deserves a safe home,” said Hagler.

With 100 percent of donations directly helping families, communities and larger economies, this nonprofit is an incredible example of work that is effective and strong even in the face of 140 mile-per-hour winds. There is a new story being told, in Haiti and beyond, and the question remaining is how each of us will help to write it.

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

Flood ForecastingThe Federal Ministry of Agriculture together with the Rural Development and the International Water Management Institute in Abuja have launched a mobile application, called “Wetin App” in order to provide citizens with the capability of flood forecasting in Niger and Benue rivers. The mobile application for flood forecasting which will be available through Google App Store has been launched due to the catastrophic flood that occurred in 2012 in Nigeria and caused massive destruction of houses, farms and human lives.

According to VOA News, “The “WetIn app” is free to download for Android phones and gives users in three flood-prone Nigerian states advanced notice when an inundation is expected.” The application that aims to focus on three Nigerian states, Kogi, Benue and Anambra, will help residents and farmers protect their belongings, their crops and evacuate the region if it is needed.

The smartphone application was developed based on a collection of data from the Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency (NHSA), the satellite and finally the Nigerian Meteorological Agency. According to Timothy Olalekan Williams, Africa director for the International Water Management Institute, the goal of the application is to provide four to five days in advance a significant warning about the height of the river. Hence, the government together with the disaster management agencies will be able to take precautionary measures.

In fact, according to the National Emergency Management Agency, in 2012, floods killed 363 people and displaced close to 4 million individuals. Due to the 2012 floods, a total of 1,337,450 houses were destroyed, of which 73% consisted of traditional Nigerian dwellings. As an illustration, some houses are constructed with iron and low-cost materials, while others are made of mud, as well as bricks.

The 2012 Nigerian floods, which remain the worst in five decades, have affected the river Niger and the river Benue. The NHSA continues to warn individuals who live close to rivers in Nigeria to immediately relocate and find safer dwellings especially in light of continued climate change.

So far this year, 14 have been killed and 208 have been injured as a result of floods. If there is continuous rainfall, then the flooding experience will be the same as in 2012. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency plays a key role in alerting the news about upcoming floods via newspapers, radio and television. Smartphones also go a long way in helping to ensure access to this vital information.

In simple terms, among Nigeria’s activities for a proper flood risk management action plan, the mobile application for flood forecasting satisfies its emergent needs. It offers an early warning system that aims to strengthen people and make them act in a proactive way.

Eliza Karabetian-Nikotian

Photo: Flickr

On August 19, the U.S. committed to providing 35 million dollars in aid to Ethiopia after their devastating drought and recent floods. The announcement came from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Ethiopia Mission Director, Leslie Reed, on World Humanitarian Day. Aid will go toward immediate humanitarian emergencies to help Ethiopia adapt to the threat of climate change and supporting the country’s developmental progress.

In 2015, Ethiopia was hit by the worst drought in decades. More than 10 million people were estimated to need humanitarian assistance, according to OXFAM. The severity of the drought was aggravated by El Niño, which periodically warms the Pacific region and affects climate patterns all over the world. The World Meteorological Organization reported that the current El Niño is one of the strongest recorded.

The drought has impacted 85 percent of Ethiopia’s population that engages in agricultural production. The dry spell destroyed farming livelihoods and escalated food prices, food insecurity and malnutrition.

Due to the effects of La Niña, flash flooding has caused further damage in Ethiopia. According to Ethiopia Drought Response Situation Report No. 3., there have been an increased number of cases of waterborne diseases due to poor sanitation and hygiene. The number of people displaced has reached 631,508, according to the report. While a portion of this number is due to conflict, 47 percent were displaced from March to June solely due to the floods.

On August 12, the Ethiopian government asked for $612 million for immediate food aid through December of 2016. Since October 2014, the U.S. has contributed 774 million dollars in aid to Ethiopia. The funds have provided clean drinking water, food for nutrition, malnutrition treatment and health services.

USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was sent to Ethiopia in March 2016 and has been working with the Ethiopian government to provide technical assistance, administer humanitarian assessments and bring aid to Ethiopia. DART provided four million dollars worth of drought resilient seeds for 226,000 families to grow food.

Other international humanitarian organizations are also contributing to relief efforts. Concern Worldwide and Goal Global worked to stabilize Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia severely impacted by the drought. The aid groups provided supplementary food to women and children experiencing malnutrition.

In order to withstand this ongoing emergency, Ethiopia will need support from the international community. Although El Niña rainfall is predicted to last through until December, the country will need support in adapting to the harsh effects of climate change in the future.

Erica Rawles

Photo: Flickr

El Nino

In response to the El Niño weather phenomenon, The Elders have asked that world leaders take initiative in filling the $2.5 billion gap in funding. This funding is necessary to alleviate the global effects of El Niño on poorer communities.

The Elders and Their Cause

The Elders are a group of activists and advocates brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007. They work together, using their influence and experience, to promote human rights, peace and justice on a global scale. Their attention has turned toward the problem of human-induced climate change due to the effects of the El Niño weather event. This year brought the strongest El Niño yet, which led to numerous droughts and severe flooding in many areas.

While the weather pattern itself is over for the year, the aftermath is still very much present and widespread. A lack of water in many areas caused extensive crop loss and increased food prices. Food shortages are running rampant in eastern and southern Africa as over 26 million children lack food security and one million suffer from severe malnutrition. Food shortages, however, are not the only concern. El Niño also warms bodies of water, which in turn contributes to the spread of the Zika virus, a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

All of the issues associated with El Niño could lead to mass migration as communities are forced out of their regions by uninhabitable weather and poor health conditions.

Aid Options

The Elders have recommended two steps that governments can take to aid victims of El Niño. The first step is to financially assist governments of climate-vulnerable countries by developing contingency plans and creating safety measures in the event of another climate-related crisis. The second step is to create and agree upon a “concrete road map” at the United Nations Climate Conference. This road map will hopefully lead to funding the $100 billion annual commitment to climate action in developing countries by the year 2020.

The current climate crisis requires immediate aid but The Elders believe that El Niño also needs a long-term response.

Kofi Annan, chair of The Elders, addressed the most recent El Niño event in a letter to all world leaders. “I am confident that your country will play its part in ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable people are protected now and into the future,” said Annan.

This sentiment reverberates to those struggling through El Niño’s devastation and serves as a reminder that global solutions require global support.

Jordan R. Little

Photo: Flickr

west African Farmers
Swedish technology company and social enterprise Ignitia has teamed up with Business Call to Action (BCtA) to send tropical weather forecasts via text message to 1.2 million small-scale west African farmers by the end of 2017.

The BCtA is backed by the UNDP and encourages businesses to include poverty-level populations and help to achieve sustainable development goals.

Founded in 2010 as a physics and meteorologist research team, Ignitia offers weather forecasts to prepare west African farmers for inclement weather.

The company has since developed algorithms that provide weather forecasts to 3,400 small-scale farmers in Ghana – with an 82 percent level of accuracy, compared to the 39 percent standard, according to Ignitia .

Here’s how it works: Ignitia’s weather forecasts are reported through Iska as text messages and are sent directly to small-scale farmers throughout tropical regions. Each forecast is tailored to a specific farmer’s crop location via an automated application that finds its GPS coordinates.

Farmers receive these forecasts by subscribing to an SMS service for $0.04 per day that can be paid in installments or from pre-paid credit on a mobile phone. This equals less than two percent of a farmer’s total expenditures, according to The Guardian.

Iska offers warnings of heavy rains and dry spells, specific start and end dates for the rainy season and provides two-day forecasts to west African farmers daily, in addition to a monthly outlook report and two six-month seasonal reports.

About 40 percent of the world’s population lives in the tropics where most livelihoods come from small-scale farming, with sub-Saharan African farmers seeing the lowest yields in the world.

Since tropical weather conditions can change drastically in a short amount of time, monitoring crops can be a tricky task for farmers. Changes in weather patterns and the unpredictability of severe weather make traditional farming methodologies less dependable.

Iska’s short-mid and long-range forecast messaging offers these farmers a vital way of adapting to climate change. The Guardian reports that at least 20 percent of yields are lost due to weather, but meteorology updates like the ones Iska provides can help increase a farmer’s income by 80 percent.

In West Africa, Iska demonstrated an 84 percent accuracy rate during the 2013 and 2014 rainy seasons, according to Ignitia.

“With Iska, smallholder farmers receive the vital information they need to mitigate risk and create resilience. In doing so, farmers are able to increase yields and improve their livelihoods, year after year,” said Liisa Petrykowska, Ignitia’s chief executive officer.

Ignitia has provided over six million weather forecasts to 80,000 small-time African farmers and plans to expand its services to 20 other countries throughout Southeast Asia, Central America and other regions of Africa.

Kelsey Lay

Sources: Ignitia 1, Ignitia 2, Ignitia 3, The Guardian
Photo: Times Higher Education

typhoon_victimsThe United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched a $2.8 million appeal to help children affected by Typhoon Koppu which recently tore through the Philippines.

“Typhoon Koppu’s slow moving path includes mountainous and hard-to-reach areas, and we are concerned about the wellbeing of all affect children,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Lotta Sylwander said.

Days before Typhoon Koppu hit, UNICEF activated its emergency preparedness measures via its Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) plan. The DRR is a systematic approach that assesses and reduces risk before, during and after a disaster.

UNICEF collaborated with the Philippine government in the pre-emptive evacuation plan which minimized casualties and property damage.

Mike Bruce, a spokesperson for Plan International, said the typhoon hit many poor communities that would struggle to rebuild their livelihoods without assistance.

“UNICEF’s first priority is to ensure children are safe and protected. Following a typhoon, children face risks from contaminated water sources, lack of food, epidemics such as cholera, hypothermia, diarrhea and pneumonia,” said Sylwander.

Save the Children estimates that 4.5 million children could be affected. In addition to restoring a safe water supply for families in the evacuation centers, UNICEF will include nutritional aid for breastfeeding mothers.

Typhoon Koppu caused floods, landslides, power outages and damaged roads and bridges, consequently isolating several towns and villages. However, the Philippines disaster agency said they have evacuated more than 65,000 people from low-lying and landslide-prone areas.

UNICEF has provided about 12,000 families with water purification tablets, hygiene kits, medicines, schools supplies, food, tents and generators.

“Secondly, we must ensure that the rhythm of children’s lives are restored and that they get back to school as soon as possible,” continued Sylwander.

DRR is also working in collaboration with Save the Children, Plan, World Vision and the Institute for Development Studies to ensure that policies recognize child safety.

Save the Children’s Country Director in the Philippines, Ned Olney, said, “From our own experience responding to other storms in the Philippines we know that children are always the most vulnerable in a disaster, in the coming days we will determine what support they will need.”

Many poor communities were destroyed many typhoon victims are attempting to return to their villages to salvage as much as possible.

UNICEF will conduct an assessment of the destruction of banana, coconut, rice and corn plantations in the most affected areas to estimate the extent of the needs of the typhoon victims. The assessment will also determine the damage done to education facilities and what will be needed to restore them as soon as possible.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: Huffington Post, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2
Photo: Flickr


As El Niño once again stirs the atmosphere. Skiers look forward to a good amount of snow and developing countries anticipate disaster.

El Niño is defined as “above-normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean.” It occurs every two to seven years and can last for several months.

When ocean temperatures change, so do wind and precipitation patterns and land temperatures. Some areas receive life-saving rainfall while others experience heavy flooding and droughts. Tropical cyclones and wildfires are also common side-effects.

Countries vulnerable to harsh weather, such as agriculture-based economies and areas with unstable infrastructure, face famine, disease and increased poverty. Economies without the means to make repairs deteriorate further, and families are left homeless and hungry.

This year, as the world faces one of the strongest El Niños in 50 years, USAID is implementing natural disaster education in vulnerable countries. The more prepared a country is to respond to and prevent natural disasters, the quicker its economy can recover.

In New Guinea, where a combination of drought and floods decimated the sweet potato crop and left many without a source of income, USAID is providing agricultural training to make fields more resilient. Techniques such as planting over last season’s crop stubble and using cover crops help the soil retain three times as much moisture.

Latin American meteorologists are learning to use the Flash Flood Guidance System to predict flash floods. Studying rainfall and absorption buys as much as six hours to evacuate people and animals. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s enough to prevent heavy casualties.

As more people move in Nacala, Mozambique, they risk settling in areas that are vulnerable to the climate. Flooding, erosion and water scarcity can damage infrastructure and impede development.

USAID founded the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services program to educate newcomers about climate vulnerabilities and high-risk areas, as well as teach natural disaster response techniques. Climate change awareness saves a lot of money and prevents future heartache.

Similar to Nacala, Vietnam has begun studying climate change and proper responses. One of its cities, Hue, experiences frequent heavy floods, which encourage extreme poverty and disease.

USAID is helping Hue, and Vietnam in general, to predict flooding and create infrastructure that can withstand heavy water over an extended period of time.

As a result of warnings, communities in Africa organized food, medicine and housing in anticipation of natural disasters and resulting diseases. El Niño is occurring more frequently in Africa, leaving little time for recovery, so food and supply storage is vital.

Families who lose their homes and occupations can utilize the supplies until they regain their livelihood. Instead of dissolving, communities will remain intact and functional and poverty will be kept at bay.

Natural disasters leave thousands dead or impoverished each year, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Natural disaster education saves lives and prevents poverty. Instead of having to rebuild their lives from the ground up, people in developing countries can continue to move forward and improve their situations.

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: USAID 1, USAID 2, NOAA, Accuweather, IB Times, Live Science
Photo: Wikimedia

Guatemalan Drought Creates Food Emergency
Over the last three years, Guatemala has experienced a drought that has taken a hungry nation and made conditions even more severe.

Before the drought, the nation experienced some of the highest levels of “inequality, poverty, chronic malnutrition and mother-child mortality in the region.” Almost 50 percent of children under the age of five suffer from chronic undernutrition; that is the highest number in their region and fourth highest in the world.

The drought has now taken what little bit of food supply the region can supply on their own and caused the crops to be stunted or not grow. Also, any food reserves have been depleted. Nearly one million hungry people are growing even hungrier with the drought.

The food emergency was an issue last year as well. On August 26, 2014, a state of emergency was declared in Guatemala after a particularly brutal drought was affecting the nation. The state of emergency was issued in 16 of the 22 provinces and at that time was affecting 236,000 families.

Currently, much of the nation’s population is relying on the government and U.N. handouts to feed their families.

Part of the reason that the drought is so devastating is the lack of improvements to the water infrastructure. The inefficiencies in collecting, storing and then irrigating the rainwater that does come expounds the problems that are associated with the drought.

Organizations are working to help those suffering most from the ravaging drought. The World Food Programme has created programs “geared towards reducing food insecurity, improving the nutritional status of mothers and children under 5 and living conditions of vulnerable groups by increasing agricultural productivity and farmer’s marketing practices.”

They cite two main programs they are conducting in Guatemala:

  1. Country Programme: 45,500 people will be given supplementary food in order to combat the chronic undernutrition, 12,000 subsistence farmers will be assisted and the program will help 3,000 farmers gain access to markets.
  2. Purchase for Progress: This program is working to link a much broader base of farmers and markets together. Also, guidance on best farming practices will be given to help grain quantity and quality.

While these programs may not directly stop the widespread hunger, it is putting food in the mouths of many who need it and creating an infrastructure to ensure that severe food shortages do not happen in the future.

They are also not the only programs that the World Food Programme is working on in Guatemala. There are long-term plans to help the country through future droughts and streamline food voucher distribution to help those hungry right now.

Guatemala has a long way to go. During this drought, so many people are suffering from worsening hunger. Unfortunately, this is not a new revelation or situation. The first area that has been addressed is the immediate need to feed the hungry.

But long-term action needs to be enacted. Thankfully, the Guatemalan government understands this and the World Food Programme has programs in place. Hopefully, in the future, a drought will not cause such widespread hunger again.

Megan Ivy

Sources: Guatemala: WFP Country Brief, NBC, Trust, WFP
Photo: Flickr

1997 was a record year for the El Niño phenomenon and the health catastrophes that can accompany it. Now as the 2015 forecast predicts similar levels of ocean warming, the public health world is bracing for impact.

“El Niño” which is a vernacular term for a phenomenon where equatorial pacific waters warm to above average temperatures, can have devastating effects on health outcomes, like the rise infectious diarrhœa in 1997. With this rise in diarrhea came a spike in infant morality, which is often caused by rapid dehydration due to fluid loss.

The last time El Niño struck with this amount of power and longevity, risk of infectious diarrhœa in Peruvian children increased up to 96 percent during the traditionally cooler seasons, according to The Lancet. NOAA has recently released a statement predicting that this year’s El Niño is “significant and strengthening… [with] a greater than 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue through Northern hemisphere winter 2015-16.”

As this year’s El Niño has already reached 1.0 on the Oceanic Niño Index (a score of 1.5 is considered a strong El Niño) there is fear that the same health problems that struck in 1997 may be at large again.

As a preventative measure, WHO has presented a “renewed call to action” on Oral Rehydration Therapy, a method that could do wonders to mollify the health effected of a prolonged El Niño.

Oral Rehydration Therapy, or ORT, is a simple context in theory: it replaces the fluids that are lost through diarrhœal episodes, thus halting the process of dehydration in its tracks. It is also not a new idea in many developing countries, which have recognized the hydrating power of traditional remedies such coconut water in preventing fatal dehydration in children.

While these remedies have proven powerful in the past, coconut water was even used as an alternative to IV saline solutions in World War II, more drastic health crises call for a more targeted approach than the home remedy. From this, the modern approach to Oral Rehydration Therapy was born as a simple solution containing only four essential ingredients: salt, glucose, potassium and citrate.

More simply put, it is just a mixture of sugar and salt that utilizes the physiology of the human gut for optimal performance. There are no IVs, no required hospitalization, and in a disaster situation, it can be easily transported in tiny silver packets to rural areas.

“In South Asia, ORT helped to reduce the fatality rate among those infected with cholera [just one of the many diarrhea-causing diseases] from 30 percent to less than 1 percent in a few decades,” wrote the New York Times in 2010 …In Rwanda…a 2006 outbreak that caused 20 deaths was rapidly quelled as 600 community health workers fanned out with oral rehydration packets in hand.”

At an estimated cost of 10 cents a packet (for the officially sanctioned UNICEF brand) or at an even lower cost for the simple salt-and-sugar home remedy it is perhaps one of the cheapest live saving solutions in the world.

This year, as the El Niño effect threatens to make the existing problems of infant dehydration reach new levels, simple, cost effective therapies such as this may become the key to preventing a new spike in mortality.

Emma Betuel

Sources: CERA Products, Rehydrate, Proquest, WHO 1, NPR, New York Times, CNN, WHO 2
Photo: Phys Org